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Researchers use nanochip technology in regenerative medicine breakthrough

Chandan Sen, director of Ohio State’s Center for Regenerative Medicine & Cell Based Therapies and the co-author of the study, holds a nanochip. Credit: Courtesy of the Wexner Medical Center

Researchers from Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center and College of Engineering have developed a way to use nanochip technology to create cells inside a body to repair injuries and damaged organs, according to a study released this summer.

L. James Lee, co-author of the study, said the nanochip technology creates tiny holes on the surface of the target cells. The nanochip then injects a genetic code inside the cell, reprogramming the function of the tissue.

It could allow skin cells to be extracted and transform into the exact cell type needed to heal injury or disease, said Chandan Sen, director of Ohio State’s Center for Regenerative Medicine & Cell Based Therapies and the co-author of the study.

The nanochip, Sen said, is not what actually regenerates the cells. Rather, it acts as a vessel for the genetic material to get inside the target cell.

“Think of a syringe. The syringe does not vaccinate you. It’s what’s in the syringe that vaccinates you,” Sen said. “The idea here is that you are lacking something, or some part of your body is falling apart, and you need that repaired.”

The researchers used the noninvasive process, known as Tissue Nanotransfection (TNT), in two specific examples.

Sen said the researchers successfully used skin cells of a mouse to rescue its leg by repairing the blood vessels located there. The second application involved switching skin cells to neural cells to repair brain damage in mice.

According to a press release on the study, the TNT process has a 98 percent success rate in reprogramming skin cells to become nerve cells.

Lee, an Ohio State professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, helped create the original nanochip technology in 2011, but said it did not draw attention because it had no specific medical application.

“Since I’m an engineering faculty, I cannot do this by myself,” Lee said. “We had to find medical collaborators.”

Lee said he began to work with Sen because of his strong background in regenerative medicine, a medical field that studies how to use human cells to replace human tissue or organs that have either been injured or damaged instead of organ transplants, which can be invasive and costly.

The researchers plan to conduct human trials within the next few years, pending approval to do so, Sen said.   

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