Imagine your hand has been crushed in an accident. The blood vessels are damaged. Not enough blood is getting to your fingers. You could lose them.
To save your hand, scientists can take cells from your body—skin cells, for example—and “devolve” them back into stem cells, the embryonic “blank slates” that then can be biochemically coaxed to become any kind of specialized cell, including cells that would make new blood vessels for your hand.
However, reversing specialized cells to become stem cells again is a complex laboratory process that not only takes time but also runs the risk of creating Frankenstein cells, such as cancer.
Now researchers at Indiana University have streamlined the process of making new cells and put it on a chip.
The silicon chip includes a container holding specific genes chosen to ignite the creation of the specific kinds of cells needed at a particular place in the body. The container sits atop a series of channels that end in a collection of micro-needles. 
The chip is positioned on the body at the site where new cells are needed and is hit with an electric charge. The charge drops the genes into the channels and they enter the body through the needles. The strength of the charge determines how deeply the genes penetrate into the tissues.
The genes then go to work making cells needed at that particular place in the body to treat a condition—for example, sparking the growth of new blood vessels to nourish and heal the tissues in your damaged hand.
The chip can be made with conventional processes but, at this point, can take as long as six days to make.
The research team is hoping the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will approve the chip this year, opening the way to clinical trials in humans and, eventually, quicker production for commercial use.
TRENDPOST: Increasingly, researchers are turning away from their chemistry sets and complex machinery and finding ways to coach the body to carry out the healing and regenerative processes it already is capable of.

Indiana University’s chip that creates specific cell types at targeted sites in the body.

Credit: Indiana University.

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