Nanotransfection device for tissue reprogramming

28 December 2021

Genetic modification offers huge potential in treating a wide variety of conditions, but the devil is in the details. Previously explored methods to deliver genes into cells, such as using viral vectors, have been connected with safety issues. As such, the potential of gene therapy has not yet been fully realised. Technological advances may offer us safer and more effective ways to deliver genes into the body.

To that end, researchers at Indiana University created a silicon nanochip that can deliver genetic material into the skin. The nanotransfection device is conceived as performing tissue reprogramming within the skin to produce desired cells and tissue structures, such as blood vessels to treat local ischemia or nerve cells to address a neurological deficit caused by nerve damage. The chip is applied to the skin and uses an electric charge to drive the genetic material into the tissue through hollow microneedles.

“This small silicon chip enables nanotechnology that can change the function of living body parts,” said Chandan Sen, a lead on the development of the new chip. “For example, if someone’s blood vessels were damaged because of a traffic accident and they need blood supply, we can’t rely on the pre-existing blood vessel anymore because that is crushed, but we can convert the skin tissue into blood vessels and rescue the limb at risk.”

The electrical charge applied by the device creates nanopores in the cells of the treated skin, allowing genetic material to enter without viral vectors, and avoiding any virus-associated safety issues. The entire process takes only 30 minutes, and so far, the researchers have tested the technology in mice, showing that they can affect gene expression in treated skin.

In this latest paper about the system, the researchers present standardised fabrication techniques that will allow reproducible manufacturing of the device. “This report on how to exactly produce these tissue nanotransfection chips will enable other researchers to participate in this new development in regenerative medicine,” said Sen.

The technology may be useful in delivering a wide variety of agents, including drugs and proteins, and so far, the researchers have proposed that it could administer agents to stimulate bone growth, blood vessel formation, nerve growth, muscle growth and even anti-tumor agents.

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