Tiny tummy patch could cut fat by one third in four weeks… without exercise

For those who have overindulged during the Christmas period help may be at hand from scientists in Singapore. A tiny tummy patch has been shown to cut body fat by 30 per cent in just 28 days without the need to exercise. The patch is covered in hundreds of microneedles which are smaller than a human hair and gradually supply a dose of two weight-loss drugs. The drug combination works to transform stubborn white fat into more manageable brown fat, which is burned away as energy by the body to keep warm. Although the patch has so far only been tested in animals, scientists at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) want to move to human trials quickly, and have already received interest from several biotech companies who are keen to develop the device. It is estimated that two thirds of Britons – 36 million – will be overweight of obese by 2025 and weight gain is a risk factor for many health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers. But scientists believe the patch, which costs around £2.50 to make, could help people who struggle to lose weight, without needing to resort to costly surgery. “What we aim to develop is a painless patch that everyone could use easily, which is unobtrusive and yet affordable,” said Prof Chen Peng, a biotechnology and obesity expert at NTU. “Most importantly, our solution aims to use a person’s own body fats to burn more energy, which is a natural process in babies.”

The patch delivers the diet drug ‘Beta-3 adrenergic receptor agonist’ and a thyroid hormone called ‘T3 triiodothyronine’ which is a commonly used for medication for an underactive thyroid gland. When the patch is pressed into the skin for about two minutes, the micro-needles become embedded and the patch can then be removed. As the needles degrade, the drug molecules slowly make their way to the energy-storing white fat underneath the skin layer, turning it into energy-burning brown fat. Brown fats are found in babies and they help to keep the baby warm by burning energy. As humans grow older, the amount of brown fats lessens and is replaced with white fats, which are stored and are difficult to remove. Experiments in mice, which were fed on a high-fat diet, showed that the patch reduced their fat mass by more than 30 percent over a period of just four weeks. It also significantly lowered their blood cholesterol and levels of fatty acid.

Assistant Professor Xu Chenjie of NTU, added: “With the embedded microneedles in the skin of the mice, the surrounding fats started browning in five days, which helped to increase the energy expenditure of the mice, leading to a reduction in body fat gain. “The amount of drugs we used in the patch is much less than those used in oral medication or an injected dose. This lowers the drug ingredient costs while our slow-release design minimises its side effects.” Obesity and diabetes combined already costs the UK more than £5 billion each year and is likely to rise to £50 billion by 2050 according to the World Obesity Federation. Professor Melvin Leow, of NTU, added: “These data should encourage Phase I Clinical studies in humans to translate these basic science findings to the bedside, with the hope that these microneedle patches may be developed into an established cost-effective method for the prevention or treatment of obesity in the near future.”

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