There's an intriguing bit of news this week that many regular readers of this website saw, and passed along: medical researchers in the Ohio university system have now been able to use nano-technology to regenerate targeted cell types of all sorts, from blood vessels to brain cells damaged by stroke:
While there is something that concerns me here, which we'll get to in a moment, the new technology has an apparent flexibility that, at first glance, is potentially very good news:
Researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Ohio State's College of Engineering have developed a new technology, Tissue Nanotransfection (TNT), that can generate any cell type of interest for treatment within the patient's own body. This technology may be used to repair injured tissue or restore function of aging tissue, including organs, blood vessels and nerve cells.
The technology is apparently enabled by a nanochip placed on the skin of the affected animal:
"By using our novel nanochip technology, injured or compromised organs can be replaced. We have shown that skin is a fertile land where we can grow the elements of any organ that is declining," said Dr. Chandan Sen, director of Ohio State's Center for Regenerative Medicine & Cell Based Therapies, who co-led the study with L. James Lee, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering with Ohio State's College of Engineering in collaboration with Ohio State's Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center.
You can relax, because the chip is not implanted, but simply serves as a sort of cellular reprogramming mechanism, designed to reprogram certain types of skin cells to grow into different types of cells needed for repair:
"This is difficult to imagine, but it is achievable, successfully working about 98 percent of the time. With this technology, we can convert skin cells into elements of any organ with just one touch. This process only takes less than a second and is non-invasive, and then you're off. The chip does not stay with you, and the reprogramming of the cell starts. Our technology keeps the cells in the body under immune surveillance, so immune suppression is not necessary," said Sen, who also is executive director of Ohio State's Comprehensive Wound Center.
TNT technology has two major components: First is a nanotechnology-based chip designed to deliver cargo to adult cells in the live body. Second is the design of specific biological cargo for cell conversion. This cargo, when delivered using the chip, converts an adult cell from one type to another, said first author Daniel Gallego-Perez, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and general surgery who also was a postdoctoral researcher in both Sen's and Lee's laboratories.
Allowing the mind "free speculative play" here, imagine "reprogramming" cancer cells not to duplicate, or simply to become healthy cells, or imagine programing cells of arthritis sufferers, or perhaps even spinal chord damage. The potential of this type of medical engineering is, in a word, breathless. And it is definitely good news, and high time too, because we need some.
Which brings me to my concern: it is my hope that this breakthrough - for that it what it appears to be - will be subjected to prolonged inter-generational study for the simple purpose of determining if there might be hidden long-term effects. The study does state that it has worked in 98% of trials in pigs and mice, and perhaps this is an indicator that such studies, at least in laboratory animals, have already been done. The article also notes that clinical trials in humans will commence next year. These, I hope, will be truly intergenerational in nature... we don't need a repeat of the "assured science" that attached itself to GMOs, only to discover via some courageous independent scientists, that there were long-term problems...
See you on the flip side...