Regeneration: from fighting to building
Regenerative medicine is an area of medicine with the potential to fully heal damaged tissues and organs, offering solutions and hope for people who have conditions today that are beyond repair. It is a branch of biomedical translational research that “replaces or regenerates human cells, tissues or organs, to restore or establish normal function”.
It involves the use of stem cells (cell therapies) and transplantation of in vitro grown organs and tissues (tissue engineering). Blood transfusions and bone marrow transplants are the most common forms.
What distinguishes regenerative medicine apart from traditional drugs is that the latter mostly treat symptoms, whereas the former aims to treat the root cause of a patient's condition by replacing lost cells or organs, or by fixing a faulty gene.
In a report published in 2017 in The Lancet, scientists observed that the number of regenerative medicine treatments in medical use today is very low. Only a handful of breakthroughs made it to patients, and private clinics are cashing in on patients' desperate search for treatments by offering unproven therapies. This combination of poor quality science, unclear funding models, unrealistic hopes and unscrupulous private clinics threatens regenerative medicine's social license to operate.
Experimental regenerative medicine treatments are being carried out in animals. At the Veterinary Health Center at Kansas State University, it is offering platelet-rich plasma and animal stem cell therapies for horses suffering from osteoarthritis, tendon injuries and ligament tears. The initial studies are promising, however the professors warned that there needs to be validated scientific protocols and sound clinical decision-making to minimise the variables associated with the actual stem cells used in each horse.
In another report published in 2018 by Stem Cells Translational Medicine, researchers have developed a simple, minimally invasive, effective way to treat osteoarthritis in dogs, using adipose (fat) tissues.
These studies in animals underscores the need to transition this technology to human clinical trials.
Despite the successes in these new therapies studies, regenerative medicine treatments have not entered mainstream medical practice. The Lancet report suggests that "the potential exists to substantially reduce the burden of disease for some common conditions (e.g. stroke, heart disease, progressive neurological conditions, autoimmune diseases, and trauma)".
Let’s cell-ebrate this advancement of science and technology, enhancing the lives of people and animals around the world.
Lim Guan Yu
You can reach me at [email protected]