The tiny patch could also revolutionise treatment of heart disease, strokes and Parkinson’s disease
A Star Trek-style device has been unveiled that could cure Alzheimer’s disease with a single touch.
The tiny patch, which is no bigger than a cufflink, is also set to revolutionise treatment of heart disease, strokes, Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses, say scientists.
Experiments on mice and pigs have been so successful the technique – which takes “a fraction of a second and is non-invasive” – could be used on humans within months.
It works by injecting DNA into skin cells, switching their function to rescue failing organs in any part of the body.
The technology – dubbed TNT (Tissue Nanotransfection) – may allow doctors to grow brain cells on a patient’s skin under the guidance of their own immune system.
They could then harvest them and inject them into the brain to treat dementia or Parkinson’s.
And no immuno-suppressant drugs would be required because individuals don’t reject their own cells.
In animals the technique turned skin cells into vascular cells – boosting blood flow and saving badly wounded legs.
The researchers were even able to grow brain cells on the skin surface of a mouse, harvest them, and inject them into its injured brain.
Just a few weeks after having a stroke, the mouse’s brain function was restored.
The technique injects skin cells with genetic code – proteins known as DNA or RNA – that changes them into other types of cells that can then be used to treat disease.
The study published in Nature Nanotechnology said it can repair injured or ageing tissue – including organs, blood vessels and nerve cells.
ist in regenerative medicine at Ohio State University, said: “By using our novel nanochip technology injured or compromised organs can be replaced.
“We have shown skin is a fertile land where we can grow the elements of any organ that is declining.”
His team reprogrammed skin cells to become vascular cells in badly injured legs that lacked blood flow.
Within a week, active blood vessels appeared in the injured leg of mice and pigs and by the second week the leg was saved.
The technology was also shown to reprogram skin cells in the live body into nerve cells that were injected into brain-injured mice to help them recover from strokes.
Dr Sen said: “This is difficult to imagine, but it is achievable, successfully working about 98% of the time.
“With this technology, we can convert skin cells into elements of any organ with just one touch.
“It takes just a fraction of a second and is non-invasive. You simply touch the chip to the wounded area – then remove it. At that point the cell reprogramming begins.
“Our technology keeps the cells in the body under immune surveillance, so immune suppression is not necessary.”
Prof James Lee, a biomolecular engineer who led the study with Dr Sen, said: “It extends the concept known as gene therapy and it has been around for quite some time.
“The difference with our technology is how we deliver the DNA into the cells.”
The technique doesn’t require any laboratory-based procedures and may be implemented at the point of care.
The cargo is delivered by zapping the device with a small electrical charge that’s barely felt by the patient.
Prof Lee said: “The concept is very simple. As a matter of fact we were even surprised how it worked so well.
“In my lab we have ongoing research trying to understand the mechanism and do even better. So, this is the beginning, more to come.”
The researchers plan to start clinical trials next year, to test the technology in humans.
Dr Sen said: “What’s even more exciting is it not only works on the skin but on any type of tissue.”
As the technique uses a patient’s own cells and does not rely on medication the researchers expect it to be approved for human trials.
In the Star Trek universe doctors and nurses use a medical device called a “dermal regenerator” that almost instantly heals cuts or burns to the skin by regenerating cells.