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Bad fats

A new 'patch' promises to transform unhealthy belly fat into fat-burning brown fat

Researchers have developed an inexpensive, safe, fat-loss treatment in an effort to fight the obesity epidemic and help localize weight loss.

Among all the ways to burn belly fat and lose your gut, a breakthrough new development is undoubtedly the easiest: Scientists developed a patch that can turn white fat into fat-burning brown fat, according to labratory trials from Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.

The patches are loaded with hundreds of micro-needles, all thinner than a hair, that contain fat-blasting drugs (either "beta-3 adrenergic receptor agonist" or "thyroid hormone T3 triiodothyronine"). Within two minutes, the micro-needles detach from the patch and become embedded in the skin, and then the patch can be removed. As the needles disintegrate, the drug they carry diffuses into the white fat underneath the skin, switching it to energy-torching brown fat.

Why is brown fat so much better than white fat? It's simple: Brown fat burns energy to create body heat. Babies tend to have lots of brown fat, because it helps keep them warm. As people age, though, their bodies tend to dissipate brown fat and replace it with white fat. White fat develops in two places: under the skin (it's the fat you can pinch), and around your inner organs, where it releases toxins and fatty acids that get swept up in the bloodstream.

In the study, published in the journal Small Methods, researchers fixed a patch onto mice who were eating a high-fat diet. The patches reduced the mice's weight gain and fat mass by more than 30% in four weeks. White fat started browning within five days, helping the mice burn more calories and lose body fat. These mice also had significantly lower blood cholesterol and fatty acid levels compared to untreated mice.

"What we aim to develop is a painless patch that everyone could use easily, is unobtrusive, and yet affordable," study co-author Chen Peng said in a press release. "Most important, our solution aims to use a person's own body fats to burn more energy, which is a natural process in babies."

The hope, of course, is that the patch could help diminish the global obesity epidemic without resorting to surgical operations or oral medication, which may require large dosages and have significant side effects. "The amount of drugs we used in the patch is much less than those used in oral medication or an injected dose," adds study co-author Xu Chenjie. "This lowers the drug ingredient costs while our slow-release design minimizes its side effects."

The researchers estimate their prototype patch would cost about $3.50 to make. They'd combine beta-3 adrenergic receptor agonist with hyaluronic acid, which is naturally found in the body and commonly used in skin moisturizers.

Interested? Stay tuned. The team has (unsurprisingly) received interest from biotech companies looking to further their research.