What regenerative medicine has to offer medically, technologically, and economically.
Picture a world where the elderly could live free from heart attacks, where people with alcohol problems would not have to surgically replace their kidneys, where injured soldiers could avoid amputation, or even where people with diabetes could throw away their insulin injections…
Thanks to medical advancements brought together by experts in biological, chemical, and engineering research, a new practice that pledges to revolutionize the field of medicine has emerged.
Enter regenerative medicine. Regenerative medicine is a newly born field of medicine dedicated to repairing tissues and organs in hopes of solving problems in our bodies that would otherwise be irreparable. Not only would conditions be fixable, but they would also be reversible. This groundbreaking possibility propels us to a world in which we do not heal our medical problems, but we counter them and generate new solutions.
“One day, patients will have access to regenerative medicine treatments that will circumvent the complications of organ donation,” says Sharlini Sankaran, Ph.D., executive director of Duke’s Regeneration Next Initiative.The Duke Regeneration Next Initiative
Sankaran hints at a solution to the problem of a lack of supply of organ donors, adding that
“we will be able to use our bodies’ innate repair mechanisms to eliminate the wait time, cost, and limited supply of organ transplantation. Instead of transplanting organs, we will know how to repair our own.”The Duke Regeneration Next Initiative
Another scientist is taking a different approach. Nenad Bursac, Ph.D., co-director of Regeneration Next and professor of biomedical engineering, is looking to change the way we treat the leading cause of death in the United States, heart disease. Hoping to prevent a loss of function due to damage by a heart attack or maybe scar tissue, he plans to place a bioengineered patch of cardiac cells that could revitalize the heart’s abilities.
Regardless of the method, regenerative medicine aims to solve life-threatening issues efficiently. Scientists have made significant progress thus far, and hope to transform the future of medicine by utilizing the regenerative properties of stem cells, advancements in technology, and a desire to repair instead of replace.
Not only is the field medically profound, but it also creates an economically viable environment. For decades, the healthcare industry has been efficient in developing a multitude of treatments for various diseases and disorders. Recent scientific discoveries have allowed pharmaceutical companies to take a broader approach in terms of innovation; the focus has shifted to the underlying causes of these diseases or disorders instead of strictly specializing in symptoms.
The problem is, however, that far too many diseases exist without adequate treatment yet in existence. But, thanks to the development of regenerative medicine, there is now a significant area of untapped potential in terms of innovative treatment. With this possibility, a whole new set of benefits open up, including an increased quality of life, room for revenue, effectively lower costs for far better methods, and general advancement in technology and research.
An essential factor of the positive economic outlook includes the increasingly older population. The most recent census predicts an increase in retired individuals by 6% in the next ten years. Understanding that older people require more pharmaceutical products, the market for more advanced therapy becomes brighter. According to a Drug Discovery World (DDW) article, annual healthcare costs for people over 65
“is greater than $10,000, a figure which is nearly four times greater than those in the 19-44 range.”Drug Discovery World (DDW)
As one could expect, “the aggregate cost impact of these indicators will create substantial stress on the economy,” suggesting that the industry is on track to spike in projections. An abundance of statistics mentioned in this article goes further in depth and analysis.
Now, it is safe to say that the buzz surrounding the field of regenerative medicine has been intense. The fuel for this attention is sourced in a renewed sense of optimism with the birth of what seems to be an extravagance of possibilities offered by modern-day biological technology and information. But how far have we come, and how far can we practically go? Have we discovered a boundless future in medicine, or is there a definite reality to what we can truly accomplish? Moreover, how effective can we be without violating the ethical constraints of biological meddling?
To answer those questions, one must understand the essence of bioengineering. Ultimately, all regenerative medicine applications are centered on the use of stem cells transplants to treat an injury or disease. By utilizing stem cells and biocompatible materials, scientists wish to eliminate threatening problems in our bodies.
In theory, we should be able to “alter” humans to our liking, but why hasn’t regenerative medicine entered mainstream medical practice? In a report published by The Lancet, several commissioners have explicitly criticized the lack of progress, citing the disappointingly low amount of breakthrough cases. One commissioner, Professor Giulio Cossu, has gone as far as to accuse private clinics of prioritizing profits over the primary purpose at hand. Despite these high-profile complaints, regenerative medicine has made significant progress and is undergoing an immense research-based phase of development.
The lack of “breakthroughs” that the commission speaks of is really an expression of impatience and an undermining of the scientific method, as the field has seen countless signs of progress. Take the 2,500 clinical trials involving stem cells, for example. Or, the various specialized 3D printers that have been invented, genomic manipulation techniques discovered, or direct differentiation cases that have been implemented.
The current boundaries of the field are not yet defined. And when things are undefined, people tend to ask questions and demand information. But, scientists are working hard to propel regenerative medicine into a more practical and repetitive practice. By adopting various strategies like the ones emphasized by Nature.com in their call to a greater focus on bioengineering and continuing to make discoveries, scientists are getting closer and closer to cracking regenerative medicine.
Although we have not reached an ideal stage yet, promising signs point to a future where regenerative medicine influences our health, jobs, food, and more.
Regardless, this should not discredit the progress that the medical field has made collectively thus far. Some significant breakthroughs that should be acknowledged include the following, as reported by the National Institute of Health in its research timeline:
- Tissue-engineered skin has been used for skin replacement, temporary wound cover for burns, and treatment for diabetic leg and foot ulcers.
- The tissue-engineered bladder, derived from a patient’s cells, can be grown outside the body and successfully transplanted.
- A material developed from the small intestines of pigs is increasingly used by surgeons to restore damaged tissues and support the body’s own healing processes. Physicians rely on the material, called small intestinal submucosa (SIS), for everything from reconstructing ligaments to treating incontinence. Today, SIS is most commonly used to help the body close hard-to-heal wounds such as second-degree burns, chronic pressure ulcers, diabetic skin ulcers, and deep skin lacerations.
- Tissue-engineered products are used to induce bone and connective tissue growth, guide long bone regeneration, and replace damaged knee cartilage.
- Tissue-engineered vascular grafts for heart bypass surgery and cardiovascular disease treatment are at the pre-clinical trial stage.
- Stem and precursor cells are available from a wide variety of sources (e.g., embryos, gestational and adult tissues, and reprogrammed differentiated cells). This increases the sophistication, variety, and utility of engineered tissues. Animal and small pilot human studies are currently paving the way for large scale clinical trials to treat many intractable diseases.
Stem and precursor cells are available from a wide variety of sources (e.g., embryos, gestational and adult tissues, and reprogrammed differentiated cells). This increases the sophistication, variety, and utility of engineered tissues. Animal and small pilot human studies are currently paving the way for large scale clinical trials to treat many intractable diseases.
Regenerative medicine’s exciting possibilities are driving a vital field to new extremes. Its growth is helping promote medical advancements, eliminate fatal conditions, and save lives. Universities around the world are adopting programs to emphasize this growth and hospitals are preparing for a new age of medicine. Hopefully, we will be able to witness people live longer, healthier, and happier lives in the future.
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