Nanoparticles Targeting White Fat Cells Help Maintain Body Weight

A press release published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on May 24th, 2016, states that nanoparticles can be designed to target white fat cells and convert them into calorie-burning brown fat. Such a conversion is believed to slow down the weight gain process without interfering with food intake.

In a new revolutionary footstep towards obesity treatment, nanotechnologists have developed nanoparticles – coated with a specific material that targets the fat molecule surfaces – claiming that they have a browning effect on the white fat cells.

What Are Nanoparticles?

A nanoparticle is a microscopic particle with at least one dimension less than 100nm (1nm= 10-9 meter). Nanoparticles exhibit some extraordinary properties due to their small size. The properties of the material change as their size approaches the nanoscale and as the percentage of atoms at the surface of a material becomes significant.

However, the change in characteristics is not always desirable. Nanoparticles exhibit some invisible properties due to their small size. For example, gold nanoparticles look black or brown in a solution. On the other hand, nanoparticles have a high surface area to volume ratio which aids them tremendously in becoming the driving force for diffusion, even at elevated temperatures. Nanoparticles are currently in the buzz due to their tremendous and life changing roles in the fields of oncology, biomedical and optics.

An Insight Into The Study

Numerous studies state that the ratio of brown fat in infants is in surplus compared to adults. Brown fat cells contain a large amount of mitochondria, which are the cell’s heat generating engines. Hence brown fat cells burn the calories, convert them into heat, and maintain body temperature and weight.

Brown fats are substituted with white fat cells as a person grows older. White fat cells store excess amount of energy in a form of chemicals called fatty acids. Not only does the accumulation of an excess amount of fatty acid in the body surge the body weight but, it also leads to  blockages and clotting in the blood vessels – both of which are risk factors for cardiovascular problems.

White fat cells unlike brown fat cells are made up of a single lipid droplet and have lower amount of mitochondria in them. Consequently, they are more white and yellow in their appearance.

As stated by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one-third of all US adults are obese. Obesity is a prime cause of many other medical conditions such as heart failure, blood pressure, abnormal blood fat, sleep apnea, obesity hypoventilation syndrome (OHS), osteoarthritis and the list goes on.

A team led by Dr Robert Langer, MIT and Dr Omid Farokhzad, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, designed nanoparticles with a core made up of Rosi or PGE2 along with a polymer called PLGA, which allowed the drug to release slowly. In order to target the white fat cells, they coated these nanoparticles with a polymer called PEG attached to either iRGD or P3-compounds that bind the nanoparticles to the inner side of fat tissues and cells. The delivery route was IV injections.

The fat cells in mice injected with the targeted nanoparticles appeared smaller, darker and had more blood vessels in relation to the control mice given non-targeted nanoparticles.Afterwards, researchers tested these targeted nanoparticles on mice fed with high fat diets. A 10% reduction in the body weight gain was noticed as compared to the untreated mice. Additionally, mice treated with said nanoparticles had smaller fat cells, more blood vessels and more brown fat markers.


In clinical studies, it has been seen that Rosi has some serious side effects on other tissues. But the solution is that compounds other than Rosi and PGE2 can be introduced in the nanoparticles.


Now, there is a pathway through which white fat cells can be targeted, turned brown and then broken down, thereby producing heat that could maintain body temperature as well as body weight.

Other Aspects Of Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology has its uses in other fields as well such as medicine. Nanoinjections have been developed which are used to inject medicine into a specific organ without pain induction.

According to a health-related news published in The Sydney Morning Herald, nanotech drugs injected via nanoinjections can be used to replace eyeball infections. Additionally, nanoinjections are commonly used for the treatment of gonadotropin-releasing hormone deficiencies. The primary goals for further research of nano-bio-technologies in drug delivery include:

  • More specific drug targeting and delivery
  • Reduction in toxicity while maintaining therapeutic effects
  • Greater safety and biocompatibility
  • Faster development of new safe medicine

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