What is Regenerative Medicine? A discipline of medicine focused on utilizing and optimizing these natural self-healing processes to improve our health, is the basic definition of regenerative medicine. It is inclusive of a range of procedures and therapies such as organ transplants whether real or artificial, the engineering of tissue, and cellular therapies.
Medical professionals have actually been using forms of it for years, though regenerative medicine strikes many as a new concept. In 1665 was when the first recorded successful blood transfusion happened. 1854 was when the first skin graft occurred, and 1950 saw the first successful kidney transplant. Procedures like autografts and organ transplants that seek to replace, rejuvenate, and regenerate the body, are all considered regenerative medicine.
Types of Regenerative Medicine
Medical Devices and Organ Transplants
There is a national transplant list in the USA for people who have failing or damaged organ in the hopes of receiving a donated organ. More than 119,000 people are on the U.S. transplant list and there currently aren’t enough available organs for those in need. Sadly, roughly two dozen people die each day waiting for a transplant. A transplant frequently requires immunosuppression drugs that can have a variety of adverse side effects, because even if a patient does get an organ in time, sometimes their body rejects the transplant—their immune system will attack the organ as the foreign body that it is.
By developing artificial devices that can replicate the function of organs like the heart, liver, and kidneys without being rejected, researchers and scientists are actively working to solve the organ shortage. To help patients survive while they wait for a donor, medical devices are also being developed to support damaged organs.
To support cells as they work to repair and maintain organs and tissues, tissue engineering is a form of regenerative medicine that uses what’s called scaffolds—which are structures made from artificial or natural materials. To form healthy, functional tissue, biologically active molecules cause cells grow on the scaffolds. Artificial skin, cartilage, and lab-grown bone are the main functions of tissue engineering.
One of the most commonly known is the transplantation of bone marrow. This allows patients with radiation damage or blood cancers a chance to make new, healthy blood cells using the donor’s bone marrow stem cells.
When a patient does not have a sufficient amount of undamaged skin for skin graft treatment, Cell therapy using a patient’s own cells is also used in cases of severe burn and scald injuries. In this procedure, skin cells are isolated from a small biopsy and expanded in a specialized laboratory. To shorten healing time, millions of cells can be grown in a relatively short time and transplanted onto the burn wound.
Many cellular therapies employ the use of stem cells to help regrow and repair tissue. Scientists are now working to harness these unique properties of stem cells to help regrow, repair, and heal organs and tissue. Every organ and tissue in your body started as a stem cell and they have the unique ability to transform into different types of cells—blood cells, skin cells, brain cells, and others.
For scientists studying regenerative medicine, stem cell research is particularly promising. Studies have shown that the tissue or organ can regrow and heal, if these cells are inserted into damaged or diseased tissue under the right conditions. Scientists around the world are optimistic that stem cells could be used to help heal nearly any type of tissue in the body.
Most clinical treatments focus on alleviating symptoms, so regenerative medicine and cellular therapies could completely change how we treat illness and disease. Regenerative medicine using cellular therapies are designed to cure illnesses at the source. For example, someone with a damaged liver could have stem cells that were transformed into liver cells to be placed within their body. The new cells would replace the damaged ones or teach them to become healthy once again, using the body’s own natural healing process. Because the treatment cells were derived from the person’s own stem cells, the body’s immune system wouldn’t respond, and rejection wouldn’t occur. The process would drastically reduce the reliance on organ transplants.