Ohio State University has developed a breakthrough technology called tissue nanotransfection, also called TNT, that allows for the healing of damaged tissue as quickly as a "fraction of a second," according to researchers.
USA Today reported Monday the process starts with a silicone chip no bigger than a dime that is placed on the surface of the skin of a living body. A strong electric field is then applied across the device, which then delivers genes to the skin cells beneath it, morphing them into different kinds of cells.
This has the potential to be used by anyone such as emergency service members, or soldiers in the field, the paper said.
“This technology does not require a laboratory or hospital and can actually be executed in the field," Chandan Sen, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine and Cell-Based Therapies, told USA Today. "It’s less than 100 grams to carry and will have a long shelf life.”
The Guardian said that, according to researchers, this turns the patients' skin into a "bioreactor," allowing it to repair damaged tissue in the applied area or at another site on the body.
“By using our novel nanochip technology, injured or compromised organs can be replaced,” Sen, who co-led the study, told The Guardian. “We have shown that skin is a fertile land where we can grow the elements of any organ that is declining.”
Sen said that the researchers are still waiting on approval for human testing from the FDA, but they are confident that it will be approved within a year. USA Today reported that Sen is already talking with Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, about trials.
The Guardian reported that the experiments done with the technology on mice had amazing effects, including fully repairing a leg where the artery had been cut and even repairing the brain of a mouse that had a stroke.
The team reveal that they used the technique on mice with legs that had had their arteries cut, preventing blood flow through the limb. The device was then put on the skin of the mice, and an electric field applied to trigger changes in the cells’ membrane, allowing the genes to enter the cells below. As a result, the team found that they were able to convert skin cells directly into vascular cells — with the effect extending deeper into the limb, in effect building a new network of blood vessels.
“Seven days later, we saw new vessels and 14 days later, we saw [blood flow] through the whole leg,” said Sen.
The team were also able to use the device to convert skin cells on mice, into nerve cells which were then injected into the brains of mice who had experienced a stroke, helping them to recover.
While the ability to reprogram cells into being other cells is not new, this technology skips the old intermediary process that forces the skin cells to first become "pluripotent stem cells" before they can become functional cells for other organs. Additionally, this technology does away with the need to use viruses as a delivery system for the new cells.
While this technology is certainly a breakthrough in the vein of science fiction, stem cell research expert Dr. Axel Behrens at the Francis Crick Institute in London said that refinement of the device is still needed in order to do anything inside the body, which would still require an invasive procedure.
“Massive development [would be] needed for this to be used for anything else than skin,” he told The Guardian.