Singaporean researchers have developed a novel approach to reduce bulging tummy fats, providing a new route to convert calorie-storing fats into calorie-burning fats.
Obesity, or storage of excess fats, is the leading cause of many diseases, including various heart diseases, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. More than half of the American population is considered to be overweight, with more than a third suffering from obesity.
Fighting obesity is challenging because most obesity interventional medicines on the market lose effectiveness and/or cause severe side effects when delivered through conventional routes. Recently, Peng Chen and Chenjie Xu at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore developed an innovative route to deliver anti-obesity drugs, through a microneedle patch. This method could ultimately lead to various ways to target stored body fats with drugs.
A short tale of two fats:
There are two types of fats in the mammalian body:
- Energy-storing white fat, which is responsible for obesity and its related diseases.
- Energy-expending brown fat, which burns and produces heat to keep the body warm.
Put simply: calorie-storing white fat is “bad” and calorie-burning brown fat is “good”! Babies and children have a high concentration of brown fats. As humans grow older, the amount of brown fat in the body decreases and is replaced with obesity-inducing white fats.
Obesity-reducing medicines and supplements work by converting the energy-storing white fats into energy-expending brown fats. However, these drugs require large doses. They are mostly taken orally or through injections, and have potentially serious side effects including increased heart rate, high blood pressure and insomnia.
A novel approach:
The prototype skin patch developed by NTU researchers is loaded with a host of microneedles. These needles, thinner than a strand of human hair, contain the drugs β-3 adrenergic receptor agonist and thyroid hormone T3 triiodothyronine. The β-3 adrenergic receptor agonist is an approved Federal Drug Administration (FDA) medicine and is used to treat overactive bladders, while T3 triiodothyronine is prescribed for treating sub-optimal functioning thyroid gland.
When the patch is administered on the skin for about two minutes, the microneedles stick to the skin surface and disconnect from the patch, which can then be discarded. The needles dissolve and discharge the drug compounds, which then reach the calorie-storing white fats beneath the skin layer, transforming them into calorie-expending brown fats.
Results in mice:
The scientists found that this method decreased weight gain in mice that were fed a high-fat diet. Their fat mass was reduced by over 30% in just four weeks! When the patch was applied on the skin of the mice, the white fats around the administered area started to “brown” in five days, which increased the energy burning in the mice, resulting in a decrease in white fat gain.
The advantage of this method is that the quantity of medicines utilized in the patch is lower than those used in injected medications or oral doses. This reduces the drug costs: the scientists estimate that their version of the patch would cost approximately $3.50. In addition, the slow diffusion mechanism minimizes the side effects.
The results published in Small Methods should advance to phase I clinical trials to translate the outcomes from the animal model to humans. Once approved, the researchers would likely license the microneedle patches to a company who could translate them into commercial products to be released in the market for the prevention or treatment of obesity. Since publishing the paper, the scientists have received invitations from healthcare and biotech companies to further the development of their prototype and for collaboration on future clinical studies.