Nano-chip promises to heal organs at a touch


Scientists say ‘nanotransfection’ technology can transform skin cells into stem cells to repair any type of tissue.


The tissue nanotransfection chip in action.
The tissue nanotransfection chip in action. In laboratory tests, the chip was able to heal the badly injured legs of mice by converting normal skin cells into vascular cells which helped heal the wounds.
Courtesy of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Injured tissues can be repaired and damaged organs healed using a new nanotech device that adapts a patient’s own skin to generate stem cells, according to a paper published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Researchers from Ohio State University call the new technology tissue nanotransfection (TNT).

They say TNT – which is basically a lab on a chip – can adapt skin cells to change into any type of tissue required, which can then be introduced to injured or degenerated areas. They claim a success rate of 98%.

“With this technology we can convert skin cells into elements of any organ with just one touch,” says co-author Chandan Sen. “This process only takes less than a second and is non-invasive, and then you're off. The chip does not stay with you, and the reprogramming of the cell starts. Our technology keeps the cells in the body under immune surveillance, so immune suppression is not necessary."

Lead author Daniel Gallego-Perez says the new technology comprises two elements: the nanotech chip designed to introduce reprogrammed DNA into existing adult cells; and a “specific biological cargo” that induces the cells to change from one type to another.

The device works using a small electrical charge.

It does not require any laboratory-based procedures, according to Gallego-Perez, and can be used at the point of care – a doctor’s office, say, or an outpatient clinic.

The paper describes experiments on mice and pigs. These included using the device to act upon badly injured legs that lacked blood flow. One week after the application of TNT, vascular vessels reappeared. Within a fortnight flow was back within normal parameters.

In a second experiment, skin cells were converted into nerve cells and introduced into the brains of mice crippled by stroke.

Says Sen: “By using our novel nanochip technology, injured or compromised organs can be replaced. We have shown that skin is a fertile land where we can grow the elements of any organ that is declining.”

The concept is very simple, adds co-author James Lee: “As a matter of fact, we were even surprised how it worked so well. In my lab, we have ongoing research trying to understand the mechanism and do even better. So this is the beginning, more to come.”

Lee, Sen and Gallego-Perez were part of a group of researchers that lodged a patent application in 2016 for an earlier iteration of TNT: a device that enables “compositions and methods for reprogramming somatic cells into induced endothelial cells”.

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Andrew Masterson is an author and journalist based in Melbourne, Australia.
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