Many health conditions, both acute and chronic, can lead to damage of different types of tissue throughout the body. Diabetes can damage nerves (called neuropathy, one of the most common effects of diabetes), strokes can damage brain tissue, and many kinds of autoimmune conditions damage connective tissue in the body. This affects a lot of people; for example, nearly half of the estimated 34 million U.S. adults with diabetes are believed to have some degree of neuropathy.
For many of these conditions, however (such as diabetic neuropathy or brain damage from strokes) the body often doesn’t have the means to repair this damage on its own, making these conditions permanent or, at best, very difficult to treat.
According to a new article in Nature Protocols, a nanochip developed by researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine could help repair damaged tissue or reverse nerve damage by converting skin tissue into something else entirely.
The chip is based on nanotransfection technology. Basically, the chip uses very small, short electrical bursts that help convert skin tissue into something else; in laboratory studies, for example, the chip helped convert skin tissue to blood vessels. This helped aid in the treatment of an injured leg by developing workable blood vessels that had been crushed by injury.
"This small silicon chip enables nanotechnology that can change the function of living body parts. 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," said Chandan Sen, the study’s lead author.
The specifications for the chip are described in Nature Protocols, and the device has now moved from a prototype to “standardized fabrication,” which allows for consistent, widespread production of the nanochip. Researchers hope that their chip could receive FDA approval within the next year or so, given its potential use for treating both emergent and chronic tissue and nerve damage.