A microneedle skin patch could help melt fat right off of us

There are all sorts of strange and scientific weight loss tricks out there. A new technique developed by researchers at Columbia University and the University of North Carolina might sound pretty crazy but, according to a new study, it actually works. The method uses a microneedle skin patch to deliver a fat-shrinking drug to specific regions that are a bit thicker than desired.

“Our group has previously developed several microneedles patched for different applications, including insulin patch, glucagon, and PD1 patch,” Zhen Gu, patch designer and study co-lead, told Digital Trends. “One day my wife just asked me how about an anti-obesity patch. Meanwhile … our collaborator Doctor Li Qiang contacted me for such a patch also, so we just started.”

Human fat is divided into two types: White fat and brown fat. White fat helps store excess energy in large droplets, while brown fat uses smaller droplets and mitochondria — the powerhouse of the cell — to burn fat and generate heat. The thing is, humans don’t have a whole lot of brown fat once we reach adulthood. Researchers have been attempting to find a method to turn a person’s white fat into brown fat to treat obesity and diabetes, but a clean and effective solution has remained elusive.

“There are several clinically available drugs that promote browning, but all must be given as pills or injections,” Qiang said, the study’s co-lead. “This exposes the whole body to the drugs, which can lead to side effects such as stomach upset, weight gain, and bone fractures. Our skin patch appears to alleviate these complications by delivering most drugs directly to fat tissue.”

With the patch, the drugs are only delivered to targeted regions through nanoparticles, invisible to the naked eye, which are packed into microscopic needles that are stacked on the centimeter-sized patch. Once the patch is applied, they painlessly pierce the skin and release the drug into fat tissue.

In lab trials, mice treated with the patch experienced a 20 percent reduction in fat, while also lowering fasting blood glucose levels.

“Many people will no doubt be excited to learn that we may be able to offer a noninvasive alternative to liposuction for reducing love handles,” said Qiang. “What’s much more important is that our patch may provide a safe and effective means of treating obesity and related metabolic disorders such as diabetes.”

The researchers are now studying which combinations of drugs will be best suited for human trials. The study was published this month in the journal ACS Nano.