In a world first, researchers have transformed tissue cells into skin cells to help heal serious wounds, a technique that could revolutionize care for victims of burns and other severe injuries.
The research is the culmination of a decade of work and holds promise for a variety of patients, including those with serious burns or elderly patients with bedsores and other recurring lesions.
The study, published yesterday in the journal Nature, involves a technology called “cell reprogramming” in which genes are inserted into cells to change them from one form to another.
“This is the first description of reprogramming of tissue cells to skin cells,” lead author Masakazu Kurita said. “I’m really excited about the results.”
Kurita, a plastic surgeon and professor at the University of Tokyo, began working on the technique 10 years ago. It has been a laborious and painstaking process since then.
The first stage involved identifying genes present in skin cells, but not in tissue cells, which could be isolated and then inserted into tissue cells to transform them.
“We picked around 80 candidate genes featured in skin cells, then we tried combinations,” Kurita said.
His breakthrough came in 2014, when he successfully reprogrammed tissue cells into skin cells in a culture dish using a combination of 28 genes.
In 2015, he moved to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California to collaborate with a team of specialists from around the world.
He and his colleagues conducted about 2,000 trials with different combinations of genes, looking for the most efficient way to transform cells.
Eventually, they hit upon a four-gene combination and began testing it in wounds on mice.
They sealed the wounds off from the surrounding skin to replicate the difficult conditions at the center of a large burn or similar injury, with no adjacent skin to promote healing.
Using the technology along with existing drug treatments, they were able to heal a lesion 1cm in diameter in about two weeks.
“Our data suggests the feasibility of a completely new therapy which could be used for the closure of wounds from various causes,” Kurita said.
The most obvious application would be for severe burns covering large parts of the body, which are usually treated with skin grafts, Kurita added.
However, he cautioned that the research was still far from being available to patients, with perhaps another decade of work needed before then.
He wants to see research done on better ways to deliver the four-gene combination.
For the study, the researchers used a virus that has been used in other work transforming cells as the delivery system for the four-gene combination, but future research could develop a more efficient delivery system specifically designed for their technique.
More work could also be done on the types of drugs used to support healing, Kurita said.
There are also risks to consider.
The study monitored the newly transformed skin cells in test mice for eight months and found they remained intact in their new form throughout that period, but longer monitoring would be needed to make sure the transformation was permanent.
In addition, any process of transforming cells with genes carries the risk of mutations, including cancer formation.
“We didn’t find any of those signs so far, but this is really short-term,” Kurita said.
“We have to work with the greatest caution to eliminate these kinds of side effects,” he said.
FOX HUNT: To suppress dissent, Chinese living abroad that Xi Jinping sees as threats are told to either return to China or commit suicide, Christopher Wray said Chinese agents have been pursuing hundreds of Chinese nationals living in the US in an effort to force their return, as part of a global campaign against the country’s diaspora, known as Operation Fox Hunt, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday. In a speech about the security threat posed by China, during which he said Beijing’s counterintelligence work was the “greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality,” Wray gave the example of one Fox Hunt target who was given a choice of going back to China or killing themselves. Fox Hunt was launched
‘WOULD NOT COMPLY’: The company’s user data are kept in Singapore and it would not turn the data over to Beijing even if asked, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said Social media app TikTok has distanced itself from Beijing after India banned 59 Chinese apps in the country, according to a correspondence seen by Reuters. In a letter to the Indian government dated on Sunday last week and seen by Reuters on Friday, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said the Chinese government has never requested user data, nor would the company turn it over if asked. TikTok, which is not available in China, is owned by China’s ByteDance, but has sought to distance itself from its Chinese roots to appeal to a global audience. Along with 58 other Chinese apps, including Tencent
INTERNET CURBS: People are rushing to erase their digital footprints after police given powers over online activity, although it might take years for the full effect to be felt At midnight on Tuesday, the Great Firewall of China, the vast apparatus that limits the country’s Internet, appeared to descend on Hong Kong. Unveiling expanded police powers as part of contentious new national security legislation, the Hong Kong government enabled police to censor online speech, and force Internet service providers to hand over user information and shut down platforms. Many residents, already anxious since the legislation took effect last week, rushed to erase their digital footprint of any signs of dissent or support for the past year of protests. Hong Kong Legislator Charles Mok (莫乃光), a pro-democracy member of the Legislative
‘FIGHT FOR FREEDOM’: Hong Kongers will never bow to Beijing, the advocate said, while the US’ envoy to the territory called China’s new security law a ‘tragedy’ The world must stand in solidarity with Hong Kongers after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on the semi-autonomous territory, advocate Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) said yesterday, vowing to continue campaigning for democracy. Wong, one of the territory’s most prominent young advocates and a figure loathed by Beijing, was speaking outside a court where he and fellow advocates are being prosecuted for involvement in last year’s pro-democracy protests. China last week enacted sweeping security legislation for the restless territory, banning acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The legislation has sent a wave of fear through the territory, and criminalized dissenting