“It takes just a fraction of a second. You simply touch the chip to the wounded area, then remove it,” said Chandan Sen, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine and Cell-Based Therapies at Ohio State. “At that point, the cell reprogramming begins.”
In a series of lab tests, the researchers applied the chip to the injured legs of mice that vascular scans showed had little to no blood flow. Within a week, the team began noticing the transformation of skin cells into vascular cells, 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 James Lee, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Ohio State. “The difference with our technology is how we deliver the DNA into the cells.”
The chip, loaded with specific genetic code or certain proteins, is placed on the skin, and a small electrical current creates channels in the tissue. The DNA or RNA is injected into those channels where it takes root and begins to reprogramme the cells.
In a new study, the research team demonstrated that the technique worked with up to 98% efficiently. Sen added: “What’s even more exciting is that it not only works on the skin, but on any type of tissue.”
Researchers were even 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 reprogrammes a patient’s own cells, meaning immune suppression is not required to make sure the new tissue is accepted, and does not rely on medication, researchers expect it to be approved for human trials within a year.