Everything You Need to Know About Regenerative Medicine

Regenerative medicine is a revolutionary field that is making advancements that can change the prognosis for people with injuries or damage to tissues or organs. If a healthy person has a paper cut, for example, the body will naturally heal this cut on its own. When bones are fractured, the body can heal the bones too. The human body is capable of amazing things and regenerative medicine seeks to harness that power to possibly cure or treat issues.

What is regenerative medicine?

Regenerative medicine is a specialized field of medicine that develops ways to regrow, repair, or replace damaged or diseased cells, organs, and tissues. Sometimes these organs, tissues, or cells are replaced because of trauma or congenital issues.

In simpler terms, regenerative medicine works to restore the normal function and structure of various organs by replacing, engineering, or regenerating cells, tissue, or organs. This differs from traditional clinical strategies which focus on treating the symptoms. The goal of regenerative medicine is to be able to cure previously untreatable injuries or diseases.

Regenerative medicine researchers seek to discover the mechanisms that nature uses to restore the function and structure of damaged or diseased tissues and organs. Another goal is to create cell regrowth rather than fibrosis (forming of scar tissue) when tissue or an organ is damaged.

The anticipated outcome is that the body creates cells to repair tissue or organs. In cases where the body itself does not heal itself, tissue and organs can be grown in a laboratory and implanted into the body. If the patient’s own stem cells are used to grow new tissue and organs, there is far less possibility of transplant rejection.

A number of fields of study are involved in regenerative medicine research. Biologists, chemists, engineers, mathematicians, and computer scientists work together to discover new ways to cure the untreatable.

What is the main use of regenerative medicine?

There are three categories in which regenerative medicine is used. These include recreating tissue and organ structure, integrating graft tissue by vascularizing engineered tissues and stimulating nerve growth, and altering the patient’s body environment to induce therapeutic responses through the manipulation of the immune system and using cell infusion. So what exactly does all of this mean? We will explain each of the three categories.

Recreating Organ and Tissue Structure

The goal of tissue engineering is to create fabrications that can restore an organ or tissue to the original state, preserve the current state, or even improve and repair damaged tissue and organs. The first Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved engineered tissue product was the IntegraArtificial skin, which was approved in 1996. Since then, numerous engineered tissues have become FDA approved.

Today, studies are being done to recreate brain tissue. While it is one of the most challenging, advancements in these studies will be beneficial in the treatment of brain injuries and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

The possibilities are endless with advancements in this field of study. Not only can skin be engineered, but so can other organs such as cartilage, trachea, heart, lungs, bladder, arteries, or liver. The implications for numerous conditions and diseases will be more positive as more advancements are made in the field.

Engineered Graft Tissue: Vascularizing & Stimulating Nerve Growth

Implanted grafts need to be integrated with the patient’s vascular system and nervous system. Once any tissue or organ is properly integrated, it will become functional and structural. Vascular endothelial growth factor cells are often used to begin the process of repairing nerve damage. The administration of these cells has been shown to increase revascularization. The implication is that these cells can be used regeneratively to prevent fibrosis and instead lead to rehabilitation and healing. These processes are still being studied, but the future is bright.

Inducing Therapeutic Responses with Immune System and Cell Infusion

Administering cells can create therapeutic responses by causing the secretion of growth factors which lead to healing and regeneration. One example of this is that umbilical cord cells can help with stroke recovery. Transplanted cells, depending on their type, can cause injured or diseased environments to become normalized and to heal.

Regenerative medicine has helped avoid the rejection of new tissues and organs, but the immune system also plays an important role in controlling regeneration. The immune system can both impair regeneration or help with the healing process. Immune engineering helps create an environment so that the body does not reject new tissue or organs.

How does regenerative medicine work?

Regenerative medicine begins with the work of scientists who study stem cells. Scientists use stem cells to rebuild tissue through tissue engineering. Scientists test the treatments extensively and once they are verified as successful treatment options, these treatments begin the process to become FDA approved. Once they are approved, doctors who work in regenerative medicine apply these treatments in their own practices.

As the focus is moved from treating symptoms to diagnosing the source and cause of the symptoms, treatments are being used to let the human body work naturally to restore the body to homeostasis.

One such treatment is Platelet-rich plasma (PRP), which is a form of regenerative medicine. In this process, the patient’s blood is drawn and the platelets are extracted. Platelets have stem cells and other growth factors and play a role in healing. These platelets are then injected into the location needed. For example, if the patient has a muscle injury the platelets would be injected into the muscle to induce healing. PRP can be used to treat torn tendons, muscle injuries, pain, and even hair loss.

What are stem cells and how are they used?

Stem cells can be categorized into two main forms- embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. There are numerous types of cells. For example, the cells are different depending on whether they are muscle cells or brain cells, and so on.

Embryonic stem cells can turn into more than one type of cell, which is referred to as pluripotent cells. Embryonic stem cells come from unused embryos that have been donated to science.

Adult stem cells are further categorized into two different types. The first type of adult stem cell comes from fully developed tissues and organs. For example, there are brain cells, muscle cells, liver cells, heart cells, and so on. There are few stem cells in these tissues and these cells will only generate a specific type of cell. For example, a stem cell that comes from the brain will only make more brain cells.

The second type of adult stem cells is the induced pluripotent stem cells. These cells were recently discovered in 2006. Induced pluripotent stem cells have been changed in a lab to become more like embryonic stem cells so that they can be used in more applications.

Stem cells are used in labs to engineer tissue and research is being done to discover new ways that these can be used in treatments. If a patient has a damaged heart, liver, or other organs, health care providers hope that someday they can transplant stem cells into these organs to regenerate new tissue and cure diseases that were once incurable.

Who might receive help from regenerative medicine?

A better question might be, who can’t benefit from regenerative medicine? There are so many possibilities when it comes to the use of stem cells in regenerative medicine. These treatments will one day have massive impacts on previously incurable diseases and injuries.

People who may benefit from regenerative medicine include those with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, spinal cord injuries, heart disease, cancer, osteoarthritis, stroke survivors, and more.

Regenerative medicine can also be beneficial to people who suffer from chronic pain or autoimmune diseases. Some of these conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, lower back pain, joint pain, sciatica, degenerative disc disease, automobile injuries, and sports injuries.

What is the current advancement of regenerative medicine?

Regenerative medicine is a field that will continue to grow in the future. The field has made progress towards regenerating and replacing tissues affected by age, disease, or even injuries.

3D bioprinting is being studied as a way to mix scaffolding and cells to result in the desired structures. Scientists have been able to use 3D bioprinting to fabricate cartilage, aortic valves, collagens, organs, and more. Similar methods include laser-assisted bioprinting, microextrusion bioprinting, and inkjet bioprinting. These methods use traditional printing methods mixed with biological material to create cells and scaffolds.

Several studies are being done to study medicinal plant extracts and stem cells. The goal is to provide a nontoxic and more affordable type of stem cell therapy. One problem with medicinal plant extracts is that there is variability with each extraction. More research is needed before this type of therapy can be put to use.

The future is bright in the field of regenerative medicine. In the coming years, scientists expect to find revolutionary ways to heal the body, replace limbs and organs, and otherwise help the body naturally work to heal itself.