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updated 9/14/2010 8:25:50 PM ET 2010-09-15T00:25:50

A laser that can trim inches off the waistline has just received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be marketed within the United States.

The device, called Zerona and manufactured by Erchonia Medical Inc., is intended to remove unwanted fat without the need for surgical procedures such as liposuction.

"This isn’t a procedure that treats obesity or is a miracle cure, it’s just is an alternative or an additional procedure to traditional liposuction," said Dr. Gregory C. Roche, a plastic surgeon in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., who has conducted research on Zerona.

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How it works
The laser liquefies fat within fat cells and causes the cells to release their contents, which are then naturally removed from the body, Roche said. As a result of the collapsed fat cells, the volume of the waistline, hips and thighs is reduced. After the fat is removed, the cell basically dies, he said.

A clinical trial of Zerona, sponsored by Erchonia, involved 67 subjects who received either the laser treatment or a sham treatment for two weeks. The study was completed in 2008 and published in the December 2009 issue of the journal Lasers in Surgery and Medicine. (The sham treatment included a red light-emitting diode, or LED, which looked similar to the laser treatment.)

The Zerona laser reduced the circumference of the patients' waists and hips by about an inch (2.5 centimeters), according to the study. Patients also lost a bit less than an inch (about 2 cm) from each thigh. Roche helped conduct the trial, but said he did not receive compensation from Erchonia.

Video: Can you safely freeze or fry your fat away? (on this page)


Do the results last?
However, about two weeks after the procedure, the patients who received the Zerona treatment regained an average of 0.31 inches (about 1 cm) across their waists, hips and thighs summed together. The researchers aren't sure what caused this increase in volume, it could have been from swelling or from the addition of new fat cells, Roche said.

In his practice, Roche said he has seen some dramatic results, including patients who have lost 15 inches (38 cm) from their waist, hips and thighs combined. He said all of his patients have lost at least 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) across these areas combined.

However, Roche cautioned that not all patients are happy with the results, as is the case with all cosmetic procedures.

"You have to be careful that people don't get overzealous and think that this is going to cause a weight loss or size change," Roche said. "What you're going to get is change in your contours when you use this procedure, [changes in] your shape, and that can be very dramatic depending on your body style and type," he told MyHealthNewsDaily.

Roche said Zerona is also a good tool to use along with liposuction.

The procedure, which lasts about 40 minutes, should be done at least six times every other day to be effective, according to the company website. If more than 72 hours lapses between treatments, the fat cells may take up the fat again, the website says.

An advantage of the Zerona procedure is that it offers patients who might not be candidates for surgery, for instance, if they have diabetes, a chance to slim their bodies, Roche said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Video: Can you safely freeze or fry your fat away?

  1. Transcript of: Can you safely freeze or fry your fat away?

    MATT LAUER, co-host: Millions of Americans are overweight and looking for an easy fix. Well, now the FDA has approved two new technologies that promise to freeze and fry your fat away. How do they work? Are they safe? Dr. Nancy Snyderman is NBC 's chief medical editor. Nancy , good morning to you.

    Dr. NANCY SNYDERMAN reporting: Hey, Matt.

    LAUER: Silver bullets here, or too good to be true ?

    SNYDERMAN: I know.

    LAUER: No?

    SNYDERMAN: Well, it's not for the obese. Here's the story that was caught underneath the headlines. This is not for people who want to lose weight . This is sort of the next generation of a technology that's going to probably supersede liposuction. It's really for changing the contour of a body, not for just getting rid of people who don't like the fat they have.

    LAUER: Nothing to do with health. This is aesthetics pure and simple.

    SNYDERMAN: Pure and simple . If it were something to do with health, that you could suck out the fact or change the fat that is around the organs and the inside, that would be great. This is not it, though.

    LAUER: In reading the material here, one that caught my attention, the laser that zaps the fat...

    SNYDERMAN: Right.

    LAUER: ...that deflates the cells. Doesn't that fat then have to go somewhere? Doesn't it -- does it get absorbed into the blood, what?

    SNYDERMAN: Brilliant question. It does have to go somewhere. So the one you're talking about, which is the sort of low-grade laser surrounds the body, almost this spider machine that you're looking at. And it basically punches holes in the fat cells and deflates them like squishing a grape. But then the inside that cell goes into the bloodstream. Temporarily you're going to get a spike in the bloodstream of blood fat and then your body will take care of that and you will excrete it.

    LAUER: Also, you have said in the past there are good fat cells and bad fat cells .

    SNYDERMAN: Yeah.

    LAUER: Does this laser know the difference?

    SNYDERMAN: I -- well, it doesn't really. And the problem is the fat that's on our hips and on our thighs and under our hands, that's sort of the subcutaneous fat that's the good stuff. Fat's complicated. Fat cells secrete a lot of hormones, some good, some bad. The bad, toxic stuff is the stuff that's around your belly, and that is not -- that is not where this stuff is aimed.

    LAUER: Either of these two technologies, the freezing or the zapping, does the fat just eventually come back?

    SNYDERMAN: Hopefully not. The cool thing is it looks like that once you squish these fat cells , whether you laser them or whether you freeze them, they really sort of go away. So I think the long-term is really good, the safety is really good. But here's what people have to remember. This is for changing the shape of a body. This is not for a fat person; this is for a person with lumps and bumps and bulges and love handles. It's $ 1500 minimum, up to 3,000 or more.

    LAUER: What kind of doctor do you go see?

    SNYDERMAN: At least a board-certified, underscore plastic surgeon. Dermatologists will be doing this, aesthetic surgeon. Make sure this is someone who just hasn't taken a weekend course to figure out the gizmos. And please know this is not going to be covered by insurance. This is money out of pocket. And if you still have to lose weight , the weight loss comes first, the body sculpting comes second.

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