A small, barely detectable electric pulse stimulates the existing cells.
During lab tests the TNT used on mice managed to fix injured legs in three weeks by turning skin cells into vascular ones. "You simply touch the chip to the wounded area, then remove it", said Chandan Sen, director, center for regenerative medicine and cell-based therapies, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
"With this technology we can convert skin cells into elements of any organ with just one touch", says co-author Chandan Sen.
USA Today reported Monday the process starts with a silicone chip no bigger than a dime that is placed on the surface of the skin of a living body. "This process only takes less than a second and is non-invasive, and then you're off", says Sen.
The device, which is only about the size of a penny, uses technology known as Tissue Nanotransfection (TNT) to inject genetic code into skin cells, turning those skin cells into any other types of cell required for treating diseased conditions; brain cells, vascular cells, nerve cells - anything a body might need to recover from an injury or sickness can be regenerated with the device.
The breakthrough technology marks the first time that cells have been reprogrammed in a live body.
By the second week, active blood vessels had developed, and by the third week, the legs of the mice were saved-without using any other form of treatment.
Lead author Daniel Gallego-Perez says the new technology comprises two elements: the nanotech chip created to introduce reprogrammed DNA into existing adult cells; and a "specific biological cargo" that induces the cells to change from one type to another.
"This is hard to imagine, but it is achievable, successfully working about 98% of the time".
Co-lead author Professor James Lee added: "The concept is very simple".
It doesn't require laboratory-based procedures, is non-invasive and can me implemented at the point of care. The team said they were "surprised" it worked so well. In my lab, we have ongoing research trying to understand the mechanism and do even better. For example, TNT was able to restore brain function in a mouse who had a stroke by growing brain cells on the mouse's skin. "So this is the beginning, more to come".
Researchers plan to start clinical trials next year to test this technology in humans, Sen said.