Scientists have developed special nano-needles that can prompt the body to repair itself.
In a trial on mice, the nano-needles - essentially tiny sponge-like porous structures - have been proven to help the animals grow new blood vessels.
The nano-needles, developed by a team from Imperial College London in cooperation with Houston Methodist Research Institute, have to be soaked in nucleic acids, which form the building blocks of all living matter.
By injecting the nucleic acid into a damaged organ using the nano-needle, the researchers believe they can trigger the body to self-repair itself.
"This is a quantum leap compared to existing technologies for the delivery of genetic material to cells and tissues," said Ennio Tasciotti from the Department of Nanomedicine at Houston Methodist Research Institute. "By gaining direct access to the cytoplasm of the cell we have achieved genetic reprogramming at an incredible high efficiency. This will let us personalise treatments for each patient, giving us endless possibilities in sensing, diagnosis and therapy.”
One thousand times thinner than a human hair, the porous nano-needles proved to be more efficient in delivering the nucleoid acid than previously tested smooth devices.
"It is still very early days in our research, but we are pleased that the nano-needles have been successful in this trial in mice. There are a number of hurdles to overcome and we haven't yet trialled the nano-needles in humans, but we think they have enormous potential for helping the body to repair itself."
The researchers are now aiming to develop a material like a flexible bandage that can incorporate the nano-needles. The bandage could be used externally or internally on different body parts to deliver the genetic material to areas in need of repair.
The nano-needles are made of biodegradable silicon, which means they can be left in the body without putting the patient’s health at risk. The silicon degrades in about two days, leaving behind only a negligible amount of a harmless substance called orthosilicic acid.
The experiment was described in the latest issue of the Nature Materials journal. In the article, the team outlined how they had delivered DNA and RNA into the back muscles of mice using the needles.
Seven days after the mice had been injected with the nucleic acids, the researchers observed a six-fold increase in the formation of new blood vessels in the back of the tested animals. The mice continued to produce new blood vessels for more than two weeks after the injection. No harmful side effects were observed in the trial.
The researchers also used the nano-needles to deliver human DNA and RNA into human cells in the lab.
"If we can harness the power of nucleic acids and prompt them to carry out specific tasks, it will give us a way to regenerate lost function,” said Ciro Chiappini from Imperial College London, the first author of the study.
“Perhaps in the future it may be possible for doctors to apply flexible bandages to severely burnt skin to reprogram the cells to heal that injury with functional tissue instead of forming a scar. Alternatively, we may see surgeons first applying the nano-needle bandages inside the affected region to promote the healthy integration of these new organs and implants in the body.”
The researchers believe their findings will allow doctors to repair damaged nerves and blood vessels and provide support for transplanted or artificial organs, to reduce the risk of those being rejected by the body.