What is Regenerative Medicine?
Regenerative medicine seeks to replace tissue or organs that have been damaged by disease, trauma, or congenital issues, vs. the current clinical strategy that focuses primarily on treating the symptoms. The tools used to realize these outcomes are tissue engineering, cellular therapies, and medical devices and artificial organs.
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. 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 solutions to some of the most challenging medical problems faced by humankind.
When injured or invaded by disease, our bodies have the innate response to heal and defend. What if it was possible to harness the power of the body to heal and then accelerate it in a clinically relevant way? What if we could help the body heal better?
The promising field of Regenerative Medicine is working to restore structure and function of damaged tissues and organs. It is also working to create solutions for organs that become permanently damaged. The goal of this approach is to find a way to cure previously untreatable injuries and diseases.
Tissue engineering is a strategy where biologically compatible scaffolds are implanted in the body at the site where new tissue is to be formed. If the scaffold is in the geometric shape of the tissue that needs to be generated, and the scaffold attracts cells the outcome is new tissue in the shape desired. If the newly forming tissue is subjected to exercise as it forms, the outcome can be new functional engineered issue.
Many millions of adult stem cells are found in every human. Our body uses stem cells as one way of repairing itself. Studies have illustrated that if adult stem cells are harvested and then injected at the site of diseased or damaged tissue, reconstruction of the tissue is feasible under the right circumstances. These cells can be collected from blood, fat, bone marrow, dental pulp, skeletal muscle and other sources. Cord blood provides yet another source of adult stem cells. Scientists and clinicians are developing and refining their ability to prepare harvested stem cells to be injected into patients to repair diseased or damaged tissue.
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Though great progress has been made in medicine, current evidence-based and palliative treatments are increasingly unable to keep pace with patients’ needs, especially given our aging population. There are few effective ways to treat the root causes of many diseases, injuries and congenital conditions. In many cases, clinicians can only manage patients’ symptoms using medications or devices.
Regenerative medicine is a game-changing area of medicine with the potential to fully heal damaged tissues and organs, offering solutions and hope for people who have conditions that today are beyond repair.
Regenerative medicine itself isn’t new — the first bone marrow and solid-organ transplants were done decades ago. But advances in developmental and cell biology, immunology, and other fields have unlocked new opportunities to refine existing regenerative therapies and develop novel ones.
The Center for Regenerative Medicine takes three interrelated approaches:
Rejuvenation. Rejuvenation means boosting the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Though after a cut your skin heals within a few days, other organs don’t repair themselves as readily.
But cells in the body once thought to be no longer able to divide (terminally differentiated) — including the highly specialized cells constituting the heart, lungs and nerves — have been shown to be able to remodel and possess some ability to self-heal. Teams within the center are studying how to enhance self-healing processes.
Replacement. Replacement involves using healthy cells, tissues or organs from a living or deceased donor to replace damaged ones. Organ transplants, such as heart and liver transplants, are good examples.
The center aims to expand opportunities for transplants by finding ways to overcome the ongoing donor shortage, the need for immunosuppression and challenges with organ rejection.
Regeneration. Regeneration involves delivering specific types of cells or cell products to diseased tissues or organs, where they will ultimately restore tissue and organ function. This can be done through cell-based therapy or by using cell products, such as growth factors. Bone marrow transplants are an example.
Regenerative medicine holds the promise of definitive, affordable health care solutions that heal the body from within.