Health

The TNT chip- reprogramming the body to heal

tissue-nanotransfection-device

Tissue Nanotransfection (TNT) is the technological and medical breakthrough that can use a microchip to instantly reprogramme the body to heal or even grow its own donor cells.

TNT is a new application of nanotechnology which allows a small chip to literally programme the body to grow specific types of cells in a targeted area. This means that we can programme healing and disease recovery for different parts of the body, including limbs and vital organs such as the brain.

Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have developed this new nanochip and recently published their findings in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. Their findings show that their chip can send a small electrical current into cells to deliver new DNA or RNA, effectively reprogramming living cells to carry out a new function. With this method, appropriate cells can be grown in a damaged limb for recovery, or, the body could grow specific cells to be grown on the skin and transplanted into organs such as the brain later. Because the body would be generating its own new cells for transplant, this would eliminate the toll that transplants from other donors can often take on the immune system.

What’s also remarkable about TNT is that it’s entirely non-invasive. The chip simply has to be touched to the body long enough for the current to be delivered. According to Chandan Sen, the Director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine and Cell-based Therapies at Ohio State, the process takes  “less than a second”. After that, the chip is taken away and the programmed cells happily go about their new task.

Chandan Sen pictured with the miniscule but powerful TNT chip. (Image courtesy of theengineer.co.uk)

Chandan Sen pictured with the miniscule but powerful TNT chip. (Image sourced from theengineer.co.uk)

TNT certainly seems like a medical dream come true, but what can we expect in the future?

Sen’s team has not yet started human trials, with those reportedly scheduled to start next year. What they have done so far is nothing short of incredible. According to CNET.com, Sen’s team have managed to restore blood vessels in the limbs of mice and pigs. Video documentation provided by the Wexner Medical Center shows that a mouse regrew blood vessels in a badly injured leg within a week and had a healthily recovered leg within 3 weeks. The team has also reportedly been able to grow nerve tissue to help mice recover from strokes. This technology could be used to combat disease, assist the healing of complex injuries, or even treat degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s.

Vascular scans (left) and Photographs (right) show the blood flow and healing of a mouse's leg after a single use of the TNT chip. (Image sourced from voanews.com)

Vascular scans (left) and Photographs (right) show the blood flow and healing of a mouse’s leg after a single use of the TNT chip. (Image sourced from voanews.com)

If we could direct the human body to produce the cells it needs within our limbs and organs, or to heal precisely as we need it to, the amount of human suffering that could be avoided would be overwhelming. Time will tell if this technology can live up to the wondrous potential it currently shows, or if it can be as effective on something as large as a human, but this could very well revolutionise our very concept of healing.

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