The cells are converted by a small microchip, similar in size to a penny, which injects genetic code into skin cells, transforming them into other types of cell.
The chip is simply placed onto the skin and can begin to create new specialised cells in “less than a second”, scientists said.
The researchers, from Ohio State University, turned skin cells from mice and pigs into blood vessel cells and nerve cells. After a week, the new cells formed new blood vessels and nerve tissue.
In one experiment, a badly damaged mouse leg was saved by the technology creating new blood vessels in tissue that had previously been lacking blood flow.
Another test involved injecting new nerve cells into a mouse’s brain to enable it to recover from a stroke.
“This is difficult to imagine, but it is achievable, successfully working about 98 per cent of the time,” said Dr. Chandan Sen, one of the joint leaders of the study. “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.”
The technology could see cells grown on a human patient’s skin and then injected into their body to treat conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimers, nerve damage and strokes.
It is the body’s own cells that are being converted, so the immune system does not attack them and therefore there is no need for immunosuppressant drugs.
Some treatments already involve converting cells in laboratory conditions before injecting them back into the patient, but this is the first time cells have been reprogrammed within the body.
Scientists said the procedure is non-invasive and does not require a laboratory, meaning it could be used in hospitals and GP surgeries. It simply involves the chip being placed on the skin and a light electrical current applied, which patients barely feel.
The research was published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
“By using our novel nanochip technology, injured or compromised organs can be replaced,” said Dr Sen. “We have shown that skin is a fertile land where we can grow the elements of any organ that is declining,”
Trials to test the technology in humans are being planned for next year.
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