Patent of the Week: Selectively Stimulating Cells for Pain Treatment, Immunotherapy

Patent of the Week

Many diseases, including Parkinson’s and irregular heartbeat, can be treated by electrically stimulating organs using an implantable device. However, the use of these devices is often high risk, as it requires either surgical implantation or permanent gene editing.

Proposing a less invasive technique, Bozhi Tian, an associate professor at the University of Chicago’s department of chemistry, has filed a patent for a different method of controlling cell activation.

According to the researchers, the work – which has applications in cancer and pain treatment – demonstrates a “new nanotechnology for cellular membrane potential and excitability control.”

The method uses synthesized silicon nanowires (also developed by Tian) that are doped with a gold catalyst. Activated by ultraviolet (UV) light, which penetrates through the skin’s surface, the material initiates a response that can be targeted to specific cells.

In animal studies, the researchers were able to stimulate individual neurons as well as T cells, a type of white blood cell that plays a central role in immune response.

The technique is advantageous because the nanowires can be administered in a “drug-like fashion.” Additionally, “their length scale allows for high spatial specificity and their surfaces can be modified easily to allow for high affinity binding to specific cell types,” the researchers explained in a paper outlining the work.

Tian also has developed the silicone nanowire into a matrix that can be affixed to multiple organ types. The matrix has potential applications in heart and neurological disorders and has been tested in animal models. These studies demonstrated how the device can induce movement in limbs of a sedated rat and induce heartbeat of a specific frequency.

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// Patent of the Week is a weekly column highlighting research and inventions from University of Chicago faculty.

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