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The results of a regenerative medicine study, recently published in Nature Nanotechnology, are in: a new technology, referred to as Tissue Nanotransfection (TNT), can generate any cell type of interest from skin for treatment within a patient’s own body. This work was conducted at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Ohio State’s College of Engineering.

“By using our novel nanochip technology, injured or compromised organs can be replaced," said co-lead researcher Chandan Sen, Ph.D., director of Ohio State’s Center for Regenerative Medicine and Cell Based Therapies. "We have shown that skin is a fertile land where we can grow the elements of any organ that is declining.” 

For example, in mouse and pig models, researchers reprogrammed skin cells to become vascular cells, in one case to treat a badly injured leg that lacked blood flow; it ultimately saved the leg. In lab tests, skin cells in the living body were reprogrammed to create nerve cells, which were injected into brain-injured mice to help them recover from stroke.

At the heart of this cell conversion is the TNT technology, which consists of two major components: a nanotechnology-based chip designed to deliver cargo to adult cells in the living body; and the aforementioned cargo, specifically designed to convert one cell type to another. The cargo is delivered by activating the device with a small electrical charge; much like iontophoresis.

According to Sen, using this technology, skin cells can be converted into the elements of any organ with just one touch. The process takes less than one second and is non-invasive. Furthermore, the technology keeps the cells in the body under immune surveillance, so immune suppression is not necessary.

Could this technology be used to revitalize skin itself? According to the report, it can repair injured tissue or restore function to aging tissue, including organs, blood vessels and nerve cells. This seems to indicate yes; however, human clinical trials have yet to confirm—more answers will be available after those trials begin in 2018.