Researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Ohio State’s College of Engineering have developed a new kind of TNT — a "Tissue Nanotransfection" device that generates specific cell types for treatment within a patient’s own body. The “cuff-link”-sized technology supports the repair or restoration of aging tissue, including organs, blood vessels, and nerve cells. Tech Briefs spoke with one of the TNT’s lead researchers.

“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,” said Dr. Chandan Sen, director of Ohio State’s Center for Regenerative Medicine & Cell Based Therapies, who co-led the study with L. James Lee, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering with Ohio State’s College of Engineering.

Caption: Dr. Chandan Sen, with the “TNT” nanochip. (Credit: OSU)

The “TNT” chip delivers DNA to skin cells in the body. When the device is placed on the skin, a small electrical pulse opens the cell surface, sending new genetic code through a microscopic window.

The Ohio State team found that the cells replicated and spread the reprogramming code. For mice and pigs suffering from poor blood flow, the researchers were able to reprogram skin cells to become healthy vascular cells.

Dr. Sen spoke with Tech Briefs.

Tech Briefs: How does your device heal organs with a “single touch?”

Dr. Sen: A silicone nanochip — an array of nanoneedles — delivers genetic code to the skin using an electric pulse. The pulse lasts for one-tenth of a second. The genetic code is discovered mostly based on how the fetus makes different types of tissues and organs.

Tech Briefs: What is most exciting to you about this technology, compared to current methods of organ/tissue repair?

Dr. Sen: The current standard is to take cells from the body, modify them in the lab, and introduce them back to the body. Such cells face hostility in the complex environment of the body, including complications caused by immune cells. Our approach bypasses all procedures outside the body. We reprogram tissue while it is in the body. As a result, when it is successfully converted to the intended fate, it works in cooperation with other elements in the live body. The net result is a simple and short intervention that lasts less than a second. Yet the functional outcome can be pretty impressive.

Tech Briefs: How was the device tested?

Dr. Sen: Our technology has successfully rescued the limbs of mice where vascular supply was transected. In addition, we generated functional nerve cells in the skin which were transferred to the brain to rescue against injury caused by stroke.

Tech Briefs: What’s next? Will this be tested in humans?

Dr. Sen: We are preparing to test in humans. Because the procedure is simple with low risk, we expect rapid progress.

The regenerative medicine study was published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

What do you think? Will a "single-touch" technology be used to help humans? Share your comments below.