New ‘TNT’ technology transforms skin cells into nearly any cell type

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Why it matters to you

This small device could help repair and restore injured or aging body tissue.

With a small electrical charge, a new device has been shown to transform skin cells into practically any other type of cell, inducing them to repair and restore injured or aging tissue in the body. Developed by researchers at The Ohio State University, the technology — Tissue Nanotransfection (TNT) — may offer a breakthrough in regenerative medicine.

The TNT chip is small, just about the size of a postage stamp, but, when placed on the skin and stimulated by an electrical current, it has demonstrated remarkable results. In less than a second the chip and current initiate the skin cells to reprogram. When used on a patient, the chip may allow cells around severe wounds, which lack blood flow, to reprogram into blood cells. The researchers suggest that the wound may be fully healed within a matter of weeks.

“TNT is a platform technology that creates … nanometer-scale entry pathways into tissue cells through a short-lived electrical stimulation,” Daniel Gallego-Perez, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and general surgery who worked on the research, told Digital Trends. “These small openings can be used to deliver novel or well-established ‘cocktails’ of reprogramming factors … into the cells, which will then try to instruct the cells to convert into a different cell type. When it comes to tissue reprogramming applications, these reprogramming factor cocktails play an integral role in the whole platform package.”

In a paper published earlier this week in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, Gallego-Perez and his team demonstrated their technology on the injured leg of a mouse. Prior to the application of TNT, the mouse’s leg had limited blood flow. After a brief electrical stimulation with the chip and three weeks of healing, the leg regained blood flow and showed dramatic improvement. In another test, skin cells were reprogrammed into nerve cells and injected into a mouse’s brain to help it recover from stroke.

Though the technology has not yet been tested on humans, the researchers are currently scaling it up for larger animal models. They will also develop the technology to comply with regulations for use on humans and plan to start clinical trials in 2018.