New nanochip reprograms cells in the body to perform different functions
A team of researchers led by Chandan Sen at the Indiana University School of Medicine, is moving a new nanochip device, which can reprogram skin cells in the body to become new blood vessels and nerve cells, out of the prototype phase.
One of the more remarkable medical developments in the past two decades has been the ability to take specialized adult cells and revert them into the kind of non-specialized stem cells found in embryonic tissue. These stem cells have great therapeutic potential because they can then be induced to grow into various cells, tissues, and (eventually) organs that will be completely compatible with the patient, eliminating the problem of tissue rejection or finding donors.
Unfortunately, doing this requires complicated laboratory procedures, and, along with many alternatives, can raise certain risks, including giving rise to cancerous cells. Instead, a simpler system is needed that does not require the elaborate steps that stem cell perversion requires.
The IU team's approach is to forgo the laboratory and turn the human body into its own cell programmer using a technology called tissue nano-transfection. This uses a silicon nanochip that has been printed to include channels ending in an array of micro-needles. On top of the chip is a rectangular cargo container, which holds specific genes.
Propelled by a focused electric charge, these genes are introduced to the desired depth in the living tissue and alter the cells, converting the location into a little bioreactor that reprograms the cells to become different kinds of cells or multicellular structures, such as blood vessels or nerves, without the need for elaborate laboratory techniques or hazardous virus transfer systems. Once produced, these cells and tissues can help to repair damage both locally or in other parts of the body, including in the brain.
"This small silicon chip enables nanotechnology that can change the function of living body parts," says Sen, director of the Indiana Center for Regenerative Medicine and Engineering. "For example, if someone's blood vessels were damaged because of a traffic accident and they need blood supply, we can't rely on the pre-existing blood vessel anymore because that is crushed, but we can convert the skin tissue into blood vessels and rescue the limb at risk."
The technology has been under development for over five years, and the IU team is now focusing on going beyond prototyping to making the nanochip a practical concern that can be used in clinical settings. This includes securing US FDA approval next year, which would open up the potential for clinical research in people. Potential applications in civilian and military medicine include repairing brain damage resulting from a stroke or reversing nerve damage caused by diabetes.
"This is about the engineering and manufacturing of the chip," says Sen. "The chip's nanofabrication process typically takes five to six days and, with the help of this report, can be achieved by anyone skilled in the art."
The research was published in Nature Protocols, and the video below explains the nanochip's basic technology.
Source: Indiana University