What's Regenerative Medicine?
Regenerative medicine is a relatively new field that brings together experts in biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, genetics, medicine, robotics, and other fields to find precision medicine solutions based in tissue engineering, genomics and cell therapy for some of the most challenging medical problems faced by humankind.
Regenerative medicine seeks to replace and remodel tissue or organs that have been damaged by disease, trauma, or congenital issues, unlike the current, traditional clinical strategies that focus on treating the symptoms. The tools used to realize these outcomes are tissue engineering, cellular therapies and genomic solutions. Combinations of these approaches can amplify our natural healing process in the places it is needed most, or take over the function of a permanently damaged organ.
Some examples include:
Medical Devices and Artificial Organs
Researchers in regenerative medicine are developing solutions to improve the quality of life for patients all over the world. Scientists work with this powerful technology to create new body parts from a patient’s own cells and tissues. Success of these efforts will eliminate the concept of tissue rejection.
Imagine if you were unable to control your bladder. People all over the world are unable to do this due to a birth defect called spina bifida. As a result, some patients must manually empty their bladder leading to additional complications. The inability to urinate at will, or even to regulate the build-up of urine, could cause back up into the kidneys, creating life-threatening damage.
A series of child and teenage patients have received urinary bladders grown from their own cells. This is the first-ever, laboratory-grown organ transplant placed into a human, all made possible by regenerative medicine.
Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials
Some diseases are so destructive that traditional medicine can only offer transplantation of entire organs. The goal of regenerative medicine is to maintain the body without the need to replace whole organs, but to enable the human body to regenerate what is needed.
For example, heart disease affects many Americans and the only current solution requires a heart transplant. Regenerative medicine has already successfully grown heart valves from human cells. With the use of biomaterials to create a mold, scientists engineer the cells to grow in the form of a heart valve.
What if you had a stash of your own cells so, whenever you needed, you could regenerate your system back to normal? The umbilical cord, usually discarded at birth, holds blood vessels that contain about a half-cup of blood that belongs to the newborn child. That blood contains many stem cells.
Our body uses stem cells as one way of repairing itself. What if you could choose to collect and store that blood? There could be a possibility those cells might be used in the future to help your body remain healthy. This is one concept regenerative medicine is working to understand.
For people around the world, regenerative medicine brings hope that tomorrow is a possibility.