Source: Ohio State University

Cell reprogramming as a breakthrough in healing wounds

Author: Agata Młodzińska
Publication: 2017-08-12

The term "cell therapy" is usually understood as a procedure involving the isolation of patient’s stem cells in order to, under laboratory conditions, cause their transformation into a specifically required type, e.g. nerve cells. However, this method has numerous limitations – first of all, the procurement of stem cells itself can cause difficulties and the necessary laboratory work is arduous and time-consuming.

That is why the works on the possibilities of transforming cells of a given type into another, without the need of isolating them from the patient’s body, are under way. In order to accomplish that, the insertion of genetic information into a cell that would "reprogram" its function is required. The first works in this area were aimed at the use of mechanisms observed in viral infections. Viruses "inject" their genetic information into the victim’s cells and reprogram them so that they produce certain proteins, e.g. enabling rapid replication of viruses. If we were able to swap the injected content, viruses would deliver it to the cells and reprogram their functions in a desirable way.

The attempts at using viruses in cell therapies are currently in progress, while the search for alternative methods of delivering genetic information to cells is also under way. The researchers at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Ohio State’s College of Engineering have developed a device that uses nanopores, tiny holes in the cell membrane ranging from 1 to 100 nanometres in diameter, to deliver genetic cargo to a cell (with the use of electric field). Although our knowledge of nanopores and the ways to artificially create them in cells is quite vast, the effective transfer of DNA fragments to skin cells, causing them to reprogram their functions into those of the vascular cells is higly innovative. The device itself is a small chip that is placed on the damaged skin for a few seconds. The chip prompts skin cells to grow microscopic blood vessels, significantly accelerating the tissue regeneration process.

The small size of the device and the promising lab tests results in pigs and mice fully justify calling this technology a breakthrough. Moreover, the results so far pave the way for subsequent experiments, including the attempts to reprogram skin cells into nerve cells and their transplantation to patient’s degenerate nervous system (e.g. in Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s diseases).

The publication by American researchers is available for a fee on the Nature magazine website:

Feel free to watch a video explaining these unbelievable phenomena: