A group of researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine have reached an advanced stage in making available for use a silicon nanochip that can reprogram living tissue into cells that perform different functions.
The new technology that looks to provide an interesting new alternative to stem cells has progressed from the prototype stage and can now be easily reproduced.
Published in Nature Protocols, this research focused on a technology known as tissue nano-transfection. It involves the use of a silicon nanochip that can hold specific genes capable of altering cells in living tissue to make them function differently.
The non-invasive nanochip has been successfully used in biological studies to reprogram skin tissue into blood vessels to repair a leg that was badly injured.
“This small silicon chip enables nanotechnology that can change the function of living body parts,” said Chandan Sen, Distinguished Professor at the School of Medicine and 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 a 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.”
A new way to reprogram cells and tissue
Stem cells have proven to be one of the greatest discoveries in recent decades for treating a variety of disorders. The non-specialized cells can be introduced into different parts of the body to replace defective cells and tissues. They remove the need for donors and avoid the concern of tissue rejection.
However, the laboratory procedures involved in using stem cells can be quite complex. There are also risks from the treatment, including a possible increase in the number of cancerous cells.
The new silicon nanochip technology looks to remove the need for a laboratory, relying instead on the human body to reprogram biological tissue. Sen and his team have been working on the device for more than five years.
This technology uses a focused electric spark or charge to deliver genes into biological tissue without doing any damage. These genes then proceed to alter cells at the location into different cells or structures. The reprogrammed cells can help to repair damage at the site or in a different part of the body.
Moving beyond prototypes
The research report describes how other researchers can produce the nanochip device to increase participation in the new regenerative development. Sen hopes the information will enable further development of the technology.
According to the lead author, the nanofabrication process of making the chip takes 5-6 days in most cases. Anyone that is “skilled in the art” can make the device using the information contained in the report, he said.
Sen expresses hope that the silicon nanochips would one day be used in clinical settings across the globe.
The team is looking to apply for FDA approval for the device next year. It could come into use for clinical research, including in hospitals, and during emergencies, once that approval is granted.
Currently, researchers are using the technology to reprogram biological tissue for a variety of therapies. These include treatments to repair brain damage associated with stroke or nerve damage due to diabetes.