Breakthrough Obesity Treatment in Early Research Can Target Bad Fat Anywhere in the Body

Illustration of depot-specific targeting of fat by cationic nanomaterials.
Credit Nicoletta Barolini – Columbia University

Folks struggling with obesity might wonder that with all the medical miracles modern technology has produced, how come there isn’t a more sure-fire way to get rid of excess body fat?

Well now, researchers at Columbia University have found that a positively charged nanomaterial called P-G3 interacts with negatively charged fat cells in obese mice that could open the door to precision non-invasive body fat removal.

As fat cells (adipocytes) take on energy in the storage form of fats, called lipids, genetic changes cause them to behave in a chronically obese manner, not like that of a fat cell from a normally-weighted person.

Reversing these changes is at the heart of the Columbia researchers’ experiment. Discovering that the structure of the cell’s exterior was negatively charged, they thought it might act as a transporter for their P-G3 nanomaterial, but were surprised to find it acted on the cell by shutting down the lipid storage functions of the adipocytes.

This however did not interfere with the cells’ other functions. In the mice who received the P-G3 injections, their adipocytes reverted to more metabolically healthy fat cells, the kind one might find in newborns or athletes.

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“With P-G3, fat cells can still be fat cells, but they can’t grow up,” said study author Kam Leong. “Our studies highlight an unexpected strategy to treat visceral adiposity and suggest a new direction of exploring cationic nanomaterials for treating metabolic diseases.”

Lead author Lei Qiang believes they have found the “secret” to target fat in a specific way in specific places, saying in a press release that “now we can shrink fat in a depot-specific manner—anywhere we want—and in a safe.” way without destroying fat cells. This is a major advance in treating obesity.”

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Qiang et al’s work was published in two papers: the first targeting subcutaneous fat which is found under skin tissues and which produces flabby arms, and visceral fat which produces pot bellies, according to the university press.

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