According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), regenerative repair, part of the emerging field of regenerative medicine, is the next step in the evolution of treatments for previously untreatable diseases and conditions affecting millions of people worldwide. Virtually any disease that results from malfunctioning, damaged or failing tissues has the potential to be cured through regenerative medicine. Moreover, this technology will be critical in the reduction of healthcare costs now and in the future. According to HHS, nearly 25% of the national GDP will be devoted to healthcare by 2040. The majority of those projected costs are for the treatment of diseases that are more common with age. Regenerative medicine therapies will help combat diseases in the elderly like diabetes and osteoporosis, and will help repair the damage caused by cardiovascular disease and macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people over 60.
Research is currently underway to use stem cells to promote the repair of damaged heart tissue, brain tissue, pancreatic islet cells (the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas) and retinal tissue (the cause of macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa). Stem cells are rare cells that not only renew themselves, but are capable of becoming specific cells and tissues as needed.
This new, interdisciplinary field is already making it possible to regenerate damaged tissue in the lab, and human clinical trials to treat a number of diseases have proved very promising. Future developments in the field may allow scientists to grow tissues and organs in the laboratory when the body is not capable of healing itself. Right now, nearly 100,000 people in the U.S. are on a waiting list to receive an organ transplant. Many of them won’t survive the wait. Regenerative medicine holds the potential to grow or re-grow healthy organs for transplantation. This rapidly growing field holds the potential to grow or re-grow tissues and organs to replace or regenerate tissues and organs damaged by disease, injury or congenial defects.
While medical advances have extended life in developed countries, quality of life issues continue to affect patients and families everywhere. Regenerative medicine is a relatively “simple” process in that stem cells are often cultured from the patient’s own tissue, then processed and transfused back into the body. In addition to treating multiple diseases, the ability to “guide” stem cells to develop into specific tissue types may ultimately benefit patients suffering from severe burns, traumatic injuries and congenital defects.
Regenerative therapies allow for two significant advances over current medical practice:
The potential to repair damaged tissue in the body to restore full functionality.
The potential to produce tissues in the laboratory to be transplanted when regeneration is not possible.
According to HHS, regenerative medicine focuses on curing conditions, as opposed to treating them. Regenerative medicine empowers doctors with the ability to replace damaged tissue with healthy tissue that is accepted and functions like (and in many cases, is) the body’s own. These therapies may cure a variety of diseases from diabetes to cancer. Regenerative medicine has the very real potential to improve lives while eliminating the cost of current medical care.
Two ultimate goals of medicine are:
- The development of drugs to treat disease
- The regeneration and repair of damaged or diseased tissues
Rapid progress is being made in both gene therapies and regenerative repair because of advances in the field of stem cell research.
Five parameters of stem cells necessary for use in regenerative repair:
- Can be found in abundant quantities (millions to billions of cells)
- Can be harvested by a minimally invasive procedure
- Can reliably and reproducibly be differentiated along multiple cell lineage pathways
- Can be safely and effectively transplanted to either an autologous or allogeneic host
- Can be manufactured in accordance with current Good Manufacturing Practice guidelines