Conversion of body cells into other cell types as a new therapeutic approach?
Scientists have developed a chip that helps to heal injuries and even create new nerve tissue. This chip is able to reprogram body cells into other cell types. The new process could lead to a medical breakthrough in the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, in which certain cells are increasingly destroyed.
The researchers from Ohio State University have succeeded in reprogramming cells in the body into other cell types with the help of an electronic chip. In the future, for example, injuries could be healed through the use. The experts published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Nature Nanotechnology".
Methods used so far
For example, if the tissue has been severely injured in an accident, attempts are often made to transplant the tissue from other regions of the body. Alternatively, it is also possible for donor tissue to be transplanted. However, there is a risk that such tissue will be rejected by the injured person's body. There is also the possibility of cultivating new body cells in a laboratory so that they can later be transplanted onto damaged tissue. However, this is very cumbersome, say the doctors.
What is reprogramming?
Ohio State University experts wanted the cells in the body to convert to other types of cells. Damaged tissue can then be replaced. This process is also called reprogramming. In experiments on mice, the scientists were able to reprogram the skin cells from living mice to nerve tissue. Skin cells could also be stimulated to convert into vascular cells. This allowed the doctors to heal damaged muscles. The method used is referred to as tissue nano transfection (TNT).
What is a transfection?
The properties of cells can be changed if certain DNA fragments (reprogramming factors) are introduced. This introduction of genes is also called transfection by experts and medical professionals. In the future, tissue nano-transfection could be used to insert so-called reprogramming factors in the body cells of a living organism in a gentle and effective manner.
Success in experiments on mice
In the experiments on mice, a slight electrical voltage was applied across the skin of the animals. Then a small chip was placed on the skin from the outside. This was wetted with a certain solution. The walls of the skin cells were then made permeable by a brief electrical impulse. For a moment, very small openings were created in the cell walls, which are also known as nanochannels. The so-called reprogramming factors could then get into the cells. This process has been tested on mice and actually works, explains Dr. James Lee from Ohio State University.
Side effects from other methods
The new method appears to pose fewer risks than older methods, in which, for example, DNA material was introduced into body cells with the help of viruses. Last but not least, there is a risk of unwanted mutations arising from such procedures. In a further treatment approach, reprogramming factors are introduced into cells using electrical voltage. However, this can lead to tissue injuries. The new TNT process, on the other hand, does not cause any damage to the tissue and can specifically introduce the material into the desired cells, the researchers say.
Advantages of the new process
The new procedure takes less than a second and is also non-invasive, author Chandan Sen of Ohio State University said in a press release. Changes were already evident after a period of seven days. After just a week, new vessels grew in the legs of mice that had previously had poor blood circulation and tissue damage, the expert added. The possible uses for the new technology are very diverse. Use is not just limited to use on the skin, the scientists explain. The technology can also be used with other tissues inside or outside the body. This means that damage to internal organs can probably also be treated.
More research is needed
Further studies must now show whether the technology can also be used successfully in humans. The treatment must of course also be safe for the patient. This is the only way to develop therapy based on technology. The researchers hope that, for example, treatments for Alzheimer's or Parkinson's diseases could be made possible in the future as a result of new nerve cells. The use on humans can already be checked within the next year. (as)