Regenerative Medicine – A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Repair Damaged Tissues
Regenerative Medicine is the miracle science that has turned impossible into possible. What if a severe diabetic patient is completely freed from taking daily insulin shots? What if all injuries are healed without scars? What if a victim of serious spinal cord injury begins to walk just like a normal person? What if a damaged heart is mended and starts functioning perfectly? All these challenging questions have found answers in the form of regenerative medicine.
It is a multi-disciplinary science formed as a result of the amalgamation of stem cell research, tissue engineering, biology, robotics, computer science, chemistry, genetics, medicine, and other science fields. It is the area of science that deals with repairing or replacing diseased or damaged tissues with the help of lab-made compounds, specially grown cells (stem cells) and tissues and artificial organs. The combination of these processes enhances the healing power of the injured area and can sometimes stimulate irreparable organs to start the process of healing.
Another significant aspect of this field is its potential to solve the problem of organ shortage during organ transplant operations performed throughout the world. Finally, it can be said that the main goal of it is to pave a path of cure and not just treatment to previously incurable diseases.
The 3 main concentrated research areas within the field of Regenerative Medicine are
1. Artificial Organ Research
Scientists have started working on developing artificial organs from synthetic and cellular components. These organs (artificial lung, artificial liver and artificial heart) function just like the normal organs and are inserted into a patient’s body either as a functional substitute while the patient is awaiting an organ transplant or to partially relieve the main organ from the burden of daily routine to help it heal after an injury or to provide on-going support to the main organ.
2. Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering
Tissue Engineering is the process of growing cells inside the patient’s body within a scaffold that provides support and materials for unhindered cell growth. According to tissue engineers, an ideal scaffold not only guides the cells but slowly dissolves and integrates itself within the body without causing any harmful reactions once the cells reach the desired growth.
Patients with a damaged food tube (oesophagus) or airway (trachea) were observed to develop scar tissue which made swallowing and breathing not only difficult but impossible. Unfortunately, the only solution available is the removal of damaged part. Researchers are working towards developing a natural scaffold inserted among the patient’s own cells that encourages healthy tissue growth, avoiding the formation of scar tissue.
3. Cell Therapy
Cells (Stem Cells) used in Cell Therapy serve the purpose of either healing an injured tissue by providing the cell source or regenerate cells in a disorder such as Alzheimer’s where the healthy cells are destroyed. Moreover, in diseases like Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which is the result of a missing protein, cells can be manipulated to produce the desired protein.
Urinary Incontinence or loss of bladder control is an embarrassing condition where involuntary urination or urine leakage during cough and sneeze is common. This was overcome to an extent by injecting collagen to the bladder sphincter to increase its thickness. But in some cases this resulted in immune reactions.
Therefore, researchers have come up with a novel treatment which involves extraction of muscle stem cells from a patient’s thigh, growing them in the lab for several weeks and injecting them into the patient’s bladder sphincter. These stem cells remain in the bladder for up to six months and gradually start growing into a sort of muscle tissue which resembles that of the bladder sphincter and increases its strength.
Not only in this area of medicine, but also any other treatment should prove its worth as a fool-proof method before it gets introduced to the common man. This connecting phase between the start of experiments in the lab and complete access to patients is called clinical trial phase which can last for several years to decades. The research which begins in the laboratory, if successful, will proceed to the next stage of testing in a bunch of human volunteers. This clinical trial phase is then expanded to a larger group of people and finally introduced into clinical practice if the results prove effective in treating the disorder.
Lets all hope that this fascinating field of Regenerative Medicine will indeed come up with solutions to treat dreadful diseases that are ruling and ruining our lives.