Ms. Stejskalová is part of the the Almquist lab, an institution committed to developing new materials to help the body heal, develop, and improve. Dr. Ben Almquist, an American biotechnologist runs the lab and provides advice and direction to his graduate students as they develop brand new materials, especially nanomaterials. And right now they’re focused on skin.
Skin is complex, much more so than it appears. Even so, the basics are quite simple. It’s a living barrier, designed to keep the outside out and the inside, well, in. It separates the body from the elements and provides the protection needed to survive, especially for us mostly hairless beings. Day to day, skin has a pretty boring job. But when things go wrong, skin’s role is complex and paramount.
There is a great diagram of the skin that is part of the article.
They’ve made “smart” bandages. Wraps and gauze that contain microscopic DNA envelopes full of instructions to help your cells perform better. This DNA guides your cells through each step of the healing process. It works as instructions to help the process become more efficient, faster, cleaner, and safer. Even with how incredible this is, developing the instructions isn’t the most inspired part. We’ve understood these for a while. Rather, the lab has revolutionized how those instructions are given.
If you’re assembling Ikea furniture, you don’t want all the instructions at once. You’re liable to refuse instruction completely if all the steps must be given together. It’s better just to freestyle the construction than be comprehensively confused. Cells work much the same way. They need specific instructions at each step of the process. If one comes too soon, it’s useless.
To give instructions at the right time, the lab had to design a material that can react appropriately to each stage of the repair process. The bandage is tuned to read and respond to the ever-changing conditions within the wound. It releases the correct DNA instructions right when they’re needed, helping to refine the healing process through tight control. That way, clotting occurs when needed, cellular proliferation happens at the right time, the immune system is tuned up and down as required, and the wound is sealed off just when it needs to be. To pull this off, the team had to come up with specific packaging for each bit of DNA. This packaging can only be opened by the cell type that it has been designed to instruct. By sealing the envelopes so they can only be opened by the proper cells, the team has built a material that automatically releases its DNA just when required and not a moment sooner.