Researchers have developed a device that can switch cell function to rescue failing body functions with a single touch. The technology, known as Tissue Nanotransfection (TNT), injects genetic code into skin cells, turning those skin cells into other types of cells required for treating diseased conditions.
Although cellular therapies represent a promising strategy for a number of conditions, current approaches have faced major translational hurdles, including limited cell sources and the need for cumbersome pre-processing steps.
A new device developed at The Ohio State University can start healing organs in a "fraction of a second," researchers say.
The technology has the potential to save the lives of car crash victims and even deployed soldiers injured on site. It's a dime-sized silicone chip that "injects genetic code into skin cells, turning those skin cells into other types of cells required for treating diseased conditions," according to a release.
In the study published in Nature Nanotechnology, first author Daniel Gallego-Perez of Ohio State demonstrated that the technique worked with up to 98 percent efficiently.
In lab tests, one touch of TNT completely repaired injured legs of mice over three weeks by turning skin cells into vascular cells.
And, it not only works on skin cells, it can restore any type of tissue, Chandan Sen, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine and Cell-Based Therapies, said. For example, the technology restored brain function in a mouse who suffered a stroke by growing brain cells on its skin.
"It takes just a fraction of a second. You simply touch the chip to the wounded area, then remove it," said Chanda n Sen, PhD, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine and Cell-Based Therapies at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "At that point, the cell reprogramming begins."
This is a breakthrough technology, because it's the first time cells have been reprogrammed in a live body. Current cell therapy methods are high risk, like those that introduce a virus and include multiple steps. There are no known side effects to TNT and treatment is less than a second, Sen said.
"This technology does not require a laboratory or hospital and can actually be executed in the field," Sen said. "It's less than 100 grams to carry and will have a long shelf life."
In a series of lab tests, researchers applied the chip to the injured legs of mice that vascular scans showed had little to no blood flow. "We reprogrammed their skin cells to become vascular cells," Sen said. "Within a week we began noticing the transformation."
By the second week, active blood vessels had formed, and by the third week, the legs of the mice were saved--with no other form of treatment.
"It extends the concept known as gene therapy, and it has been around for quite some time," said study collaborator James Lee, PhD, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Ohio State. "The difference with our technology is how we deliver the DNA into the cells."
It is awaiting FDA approval, but Sen, who has been working on this for four years, expects TNT will be tested on humans within the year. He says he's talking with Walter Reed National Medical Center now.
"We are proposing the use of skin as an agricultural land where you can essentially grow any cell of interest," Sen said.
"What's even more exciting is that it not only works on the skin, but on any type of tissue," Sen said. In fact, researchers were able to grow brain cells on the skin surface of a mouse, harvest them, then inject them into the mouse's injured brain. Just a few weeks after having a stroke, brain function in the mouse was restored, and it was healed.
Because the technique uses a patient's own cells and does not rely on medication, researchers expect it to be approved for human trials within a year.