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New Nanochip Can Reprograms Cells Directly in the Body

A research team led by Chandan Sen of the Indiana University (IU) School of Medicine is recently moving a new nanochip device out of the pro...

A research team led by Chandan Sen of the Indiana University (IU) School of Medicine is recently moving a new nanochip device out of the prototype stage. It is reported that the device can reprogram skin cells in the body to become new blood vessels and nerve cells.

One of the more remarkable medical developments of the past 20 years has been the ability to revert specialized adult cells into the unspecialized stem cells found in embryonic tissue. These stem cells have enormous therapeutic potential, as they can then be coaxed to grow into various cells, tissues and (eventually) organs that are fully compatible with the patient, while eliminating the problem of tissue rejection or finding a donor.

Unfortunately, doing so requires complex laboratory procedures and, like many alternatives, poses certain risks, including the development of cancer cells. Instead, we need a simpler system that does not require the elaborate steps required for stem cell metamorphosis. IU's approach is to ditch the lab and instead use a technique called tissue nano transfection to turn the human body into its own cellular programmer. This uses a silicon nanochip that has been printed to include channels terminating in an array of microneedles. On top of the chip is a rectangular cargo container that contains specific genes.

Propelled by focused charges, the genes are introduced into living tissue at the desired depth and alter the cells, turning the site into a tiny bioreactor that can reprogram the cells into different types of cells or multicellular structures such as blood vessels or nerves, all without complex laboratory techniques or dangerous virus transfer systems. Once produced, these cells and tissues can help repair damage locally or elsewhere in the body, including the brain.

Sen, director of the Indiana Center for Regenerative Medicine and Engineering, said: "This small silicon chip enables nanotechnology, which can change the function of living parts. For example, if someone's blood vessels are damaged in a traffic accident, and they need a blood supply, we can use it to provide a good supply of blood. We can no longer rely on the original blood vessels because that has been crushed, but we can convert skin tissue into blood vessels and save limbs at risk."


The technology has been in development for more than 5 years, and the IU team is now focusing on moving beyond prototyping to make the nanochip a practical problem that can be used in the clinic. That includes securing FDA approval, which will open up the potential for clinical studies in people. Potential applications in civilian and military medicine include repairing brain damage from stroke or reversing nerve damage from diabetes.

"It's about the engineering and fabrication of the chip," Sen said. "The nanofabrication process of the chip usually takes five to six days, and with the help of this report, anyone skilled in it can do it."


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