Imagine using a medicated skin patch to burn off areas of unwanted fat, including those “love handles.”

Scientists are doing just that — in mice.

A skin patch designed to convert unhealthy white fat into energy-burning brown fat was effective in rodents, according to researchers at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.

They said the patch could help reduce unwanted fat in specific areas of the body, which could aid in treating problems related to obesity and diabetes.

“Love handles” — the fatty bulges along the sides of the torso — might be one of the targets.

Researchers for years have sought to find a viable way to convert white fat to brown fat, a process called browning. Browning can occur naturally when the body is exposed to cold temperatures.

“There are several clinically available drugs that promote browning, but all must be given as pills or injections,” said study co-leader Li Qiang, an assistant professor of pathology and cell biology.

“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,” Qiang explained in a university news release.

Qiang hopes people understand the intrinsic value of the research, not just the potential cosmetic benefits.

“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,” Qiang said.

“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,” he said.

The patch has not been tested in humans. And often, results obtained in animal studies are not replicated in studies with people.

The study was published online Sept. 15 in the journal ACS Nano.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has more on weight.