People have looked to medicine for healing illnesses and injuries for many years. The field has, no doubt, improved quality of life with antibiotics, vaccines, and other significant breakthroughs leading to some infectious diseases’ effective management or eradication.
The problem is that the human race remains at the mercy of disease despite how modern medicine has made things better. For example, osteoporosis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and other chronic diseases still are relentlessly causing suffering, although already treatable. Furthermore, vaccines aren’t available for HIV or malaria yet. Managing their symptoms is the best healthcare workers can do because these conditions don’t have silver bullets available.
But there’s good news. Things could be changing soon, thanks to regenerative medicine. The sights of this field of research are set on the disease’s root causes. The ISCRM or Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine is only one of the several agencies already pouring time and money into better understanding how regenerative medicine works and how it could be appropriately applied to humans. Some regenerative medicine treatments are already on offer to patients like those you can find on this site.
Regenerative Medicine: What is this Field All About?
Regenerative medicine is all about harnessing the human body’s own regenerative capabilities to treat injuries and diseases. It’s a relatively new field of scientific study.
The research about regenerative medicine generally focuses on some central principles encompassing a wide range of scientific disciplines. It covers biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, and immunology, among others.
The fundamental concepts of regenerative medicine research are discovering how cells grow and die and understanding stem cells’ physiological mechanisms. It also tries to learn more about the supporting structures found between cells and what makes stem cells transform into other cells.
What is Regenerative Medicine Trying to Uncover?
The skin is a body part that can renew and repair itself. The liver is also capable of growing back to its original size. It’s possible, even after losing part of it to disease or injury. With those said, regenerative capabilities are present in human adults.
Scientists believe that they could make some organs and tissues that don’t have regenerative capabilities regenerate. There are some vital questions that they need to answer, though, to enable this successfully. Check them out below.
- Why do some body parts like the brain and the heart don’t regenerate even if they have a hidden ability to do it?
- How do some human body parts like the digestive tract lining, blood cells, and the skin naturally regenerate?
- Why do some animals have the ability to regenerate a heart, limb, and other complex parts?
- What switches a cell’s regenerative capability on and off? How is it determined?
Regenerative medicine’s further development requires understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms that play a role in the regenerative process. It’s a good thing that answers to the questions above will enable scientists to garner essential insight into how the repair and replacement of tissues and organs will be possible through stem cells. That’s why they’re vital in uncovering more information about regenerative medicine.
Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cells
Efforts to understand better how regenerative medicine works use stem cells as a tool of discovery. It’s also a way of understanding how stem cells could be used in treating patients. Scientists from the Institute of Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine use stem cells in testing stem cell-based therapies’ effectiveness in regenerating lost or damaged heart tissue. Studying how heart diseases develop also involves stem cells. Some researchers even use them in launching heart tissue out into space to understand microgravity’s effects on cardiovascular health.
Furthermore, organoids or 3D organ models can also be created using stem cells. Many scientists from the ISCRM perform such a practice to avoid involving animals or human subjects when studying diseases and testing regenerative treatments.
How Can Regenerative Medicine be Applied to Patients?
Applying regenerative medicine to patients could be possible in three main ways. They’re the following:
- Organ Or Tissue Self-repair – Embryonic stem cells are derived from blastocysts’ inner cell mass. They’re responsible for human growth. However, the best thing about them is that they’re capable of transforming into any other cell type. In other words, they’re highly pluripotent. Due to their pluripotency, blood cells, muscle cells, and nerve cells can come out of them, following division and differentiation.
Pluripotent stem cells could allow tissue or organs to repair themselves when they get damaged. Such a phenomenon already occurs in nature. For example, a fish native to the South East Asian region known as the zebrafish can repair its own heart. The process could not only prevent but also reverse damage to vital organs.
- Cellular Therapies for Curing Diseases – It’s not impossible for the human race to see stem cells introduced as a therapy form that can be utilized for treating and curing many diseases and genetic disorders one day. That’s because stem cells have been found to be capable of acting as a repair mechanism for injured or diseased tissue or organ. Illnesses or health problems that they can potentially provide solutions for include osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, leukemia, and multiple sclerosis. Stem cell therapies also cover dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and type 1 diabetes.
Regenerative medicine holds the potential of replacing damaged body tissues and organs, and it’s what makes the field exciting. It can potentially cure many different genetic conditions, injuries, and diseases.
- Organ Growth – More than a thousand people are on the waiting list for transplant operations at any one time in many countries. That’s because it’s the only solution when organ failure results from a disease or injury. However, what commonly happens is that many patients die before getting a chance to have a new life because of the lack of organ donors.
Creating new body parts using a patient’s own tissues and cells is one of regenerative medicine’s primary goals. Once fully realized, complications arising from organ rejection can be prevented. Regenerative science will also eliminate the need for donated organs.
Types Of Regenerative Medicine Treatments
Regenerative therapy shows great promise for the future. Experts are currently applying five types of them, including:
- Stem Cell Treatments – Physicians using stem cell therapy strongly believe that stem cells can transform and meet a specific need when placed into a definite environment. That means that even if a stem cell doesn’t serve a body function specifically, it can develop cells that do, including a tendon cell or a cartilage cell. There’s a hypothesis that stem cells transform into healthy Achilles’ tendon cells when placed near a problematic Achilles’ tendon.
Doctors can get the cord, placenta-tissue, and amniotic fluid stem cells from some companies. However, cells coming from these body parts usually get destroyed during storage and transport when lacking close oversight. That’s why it’s highly recommended to make bone marrow, blood, and patient’s fat as the sources for stem cell treatments instead. Doing so prevents the cells from dying. It also ensures their effectiveness.
- PRP Or Platelet-rich Plasma Treatment – Health problems such as orthopedic tendon/ligament sprains and tears, arthritis, and spinal conditions can be permanently solved with PRP or platelet-rich plasma treatment’s help. It’s a non-operative procedure because it utilizes the body’s natural healing process.
PRP therapy promotes tissue repair and accelerates healing by injecting a concentration of a patient’s own platelets into the damaged joints, tendons, and ligaments. An injured person can regain a pain-free life faster than it would usually take if the growth and healing factors of platelet-rich plasma treatment are utilized.
It’s essential to note that PRP therapy varies. Different types exist, and they’re not the same. The use of other substances (e.g., anesthetics), the method of blood processing, and the differences in patients’ blood are factors that determine the PRP treatment type being used.
- Prolotherapy – In some cases, the inflammation that an injury causes subsides before the damage has completely healed. However, inflammation attracts cells that help in the repair and healing of damaged tissues. It does that by increasing blood flow. Fibroblasts, macrophages, monocytes, and granulocytes are examples of cells that facilitate further healing. A doctor injects an irritant into the affected area during prolotherapy in the hope of improving the healing process by temporarily increasing inflammation.
Prolotherapy isn’t cellular therapy by definition. However, it uses PRP as an irritant sometimes. The simple sugar dextrose is the irritant that’s most commonly used. Some physicians also use glycerin or saline.
- Micro-fragmented Adipose Injections – For individuals suffering from rotator cuff tears, arthritis, joint pain, and spinal conditions, the next-generation regenerative medicine is micro-fragmented adipose injections.
Micro-fragmented adipose injections offer a faster recovery time by using a minimally invasive alternative to surgeries for the abovementioned conditions.
Regenerative Medicine’s Costs
Regenerative medicine prices vary widely depending on the hospital, physician, treated region, and specific treatment. It’s essential to note that patients have to pay for the procedure out of their pocket because insurance doesn’t cover regenerative medicine treatments in most cases.
Imagine a treatment that helps grandparents weakened by heart failure become independent once again or frees a child from diabetes’ daily insulin injections. Imagine damaged organs growing back and wounds healing without scars. Imagine a soldier regaining his self-confidence after battle injuries disfigured his/her body. You’ll probably say that those are all science fiction five to ten years ago. However, thanks to regenerative medicine, many therapies now make these things possible.