What Is Regenerative Medicine

When Adrienne Shapiro’s daughter Marissa was diagnosed with sickle cell disease, the doctors said that she would not live till her first birthday. However, when Marissa managed to live past that benchmark, it did not mean the end of Adrienne’s worries. In fact, it was the beginning of many painful years of blood transfusions and immunological disorders. When an improperly matched blood transfusion caused a severe reaction leading to the removal of Marissa’s gall bladder and temporary kidney failure, she was unable to receive further blood transfusions.

However, luckily for Marissa a project sponsored by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), headed by Don Kohn, MD at UCLA, was starting a clinical trial. The objective of the project was ‘to remove bone marrow from the patient and fix the genetic defect in the blood-forming stem cells. Then those cells can be reintroduced into the patient to create a new, healthy blood system.’The success of this clinical trial has given hope to Adrienne that with the help regenerative medicine her daughter will be able to lead a healthy and pain-free life.

The Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison describes ‘Regenerative Medicine’ as ‘a new scientific and medical discipline focused on harnessing the power of stem cells and the body’s own regenerative capabilities to restore function to damaged cells, tissues and organs.’

Stem cells that are found in the umbilical cord blood of new born children have the ability to renew and regenerate themselves. A stem cell, through the process of mitosis, can divide itself to either become a specialized cell like a brain cell or muscle cell, or remain a stem cell. They are also able to repair internal damage caused by any type of disease, disorder or trauma. Stem cell transplantation, stem cell grafting and regenerative medicine are some of the ways in which these cells are used to cure disorders and illnesses.

Regenerative medicine includes a wide range of scientific disciplines, such as biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology and immunology. Scientists from these fields have been conducting research and studies in this domain and have identified three methods of using regenerative medicine. They are cellular therapies, tissue engineering and medical devices and artificial organs.

In this method, cellular materials, in most cases adult stem cells, are extracted and stored and then injected into the site of injury, tissue damage or disease. These cells, thereafter, repair the damaged cells or regenerate new cells to replace the damaged ones.

This method is related to the field of biomaterials development and utilizes a combination of functioning tissues, cells and scaffolds to engineer a fully functioning organ which is then implanted into the body of the receiver in place of a damaged organ or tissue.

When a body organ fails, the most common method of treatment is to replace it with a donor organ. Donor organs are not easily available and can pose as a hindrance in such cases. Even if a donor is available, he or she may need to take immunosuppressant drugs before the transplant and these drugs have been known to cause side-effects. In such circumstances, medical devices that imitate the function of the failed organ can be used, instead of transplantation. An example of one such device is the ventricular assist device (VAD) that is used in place of heart transplants.

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