Regenerative Medicine

Regenerative medicine is the process of replacing damaged cells, tissues, and organs by either triggering healing mechanisms in the body or by lab grown cells, tissues, and organs engineered from the body. The use of stem cells is the most effective form of regenerative medicine because they are the building block for every other cell in the body, they have the potential to develop into any cell type in the body during life. This process of taking cells and changing their functions within the body is called "reprogramming" by scientists. Regenerative medicine has the potential to solve the organ transplant shortage problem which is caused by the lack of organ donors to the amount of people with chronic diseases in need of transplants because their bodies are unable to heal themselves. With the use of regenerative medicine, organs and other cells grown in labs can be transplanted into a patient's body and there no risk of their body rejecting the transplant because the cells were derived from the patients own cells.

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How It's Being Used Today:

  • The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine is currently working on re-growing 22 different organs from the human body in petri dishes. They have already extracted muscle and bladder cells from several different patients and then molded them into three dimensional bladder shapes in a lab. Just weeks after, the mold of cells started acting as a real bladder and they successfully implanted the bladder into a patient's body.
  • At the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, research Professor Dr. Stephen Badylak developed a process that takes cells from the lining of a pigs bladder, decellularizes them leaving only the extracellular structure, and then drys them to create a powder. This cellular matrix powder nicknamed "pixie-dust" has been used to regrow lost of severely damaged tissue from traumatic injuries such as the lost fingers, toes, and in one case, a heel.
  • In Barcelona, the first tissue engineered trachea transplantation was performed from adult stem cells taken from the patient's bone marrow. The stem cells were grown into a large population, matured into cartilage cells and then seeded into a tracheal segment that was received from a deceased donor.
  • GE Healthcare and Cellular Dynamics International are now manufacturing beating heart cells, liver cells, and neural cells to test the safety and toxicity of newly discovered drugs to understand their effects.

Effects on Healthcare Costs

It is speculated that the benefits of regenerative medicine can have enormous economic savings in healthcare. The average costs of organ replacement surgeries worldwide is $350 billion (8% of global healthcare spending). This accounts for the therapy, such as kidney dialysis and physical therapy, that goes along with sustaining patients that undergo these types of surgeries. Take for example Diabetes. While insulin and glucose can help patients manage diabetes, they do not cure it nor do they prevent long term complications such as kidney failure. With 17 million diabetes patients the cost of care for these people is an estimated $132 billion. "Because regenerative medicine focuses on functional restoration of damaged tissues and organs and not abatement or moderation of symptoms, this field will cut healthcare costs".


Lauren Johnson