Medicine has advanced in astounding ways over the course of the past century. With the development of drugs and technologies ranging from Penicillin and vaccines to modern X-rays and anesthesia, the average US life expectancy increased from under 50 in 1900 to just under 80 today. A range of pernicious and previously untreatable diseases from polio to juvenile diabetes to various forms of cancer have finally become manageable or beatable due to the immense focused attention of medical researchers and practitioners.
The upshot of academic, governmental, and private medical research investments has been a massive flourishing of human life.
Yet there’s reason to believe that the advances in medical technology in the decades to come could tower over the last century’s innovations.
A case in point is the development of the new field of Regenerative Medicine. This emerging area of research could revolutionize the treatment of diseases, injuries, and congenital conditions by turning various tissues into fully-functional human organs.
Regenerative Medicine combines diverse innovations to enable the use of bodily tissues like progenitor cells (from umbilical cord blood) or stem cells (from adults or embryos) to repair or replace failing systems in a human body.
The operating principle behind regenerative medicine is simple and profound: The human body can heal itself.
For people living with untreatable conditions or with loved ones facing such diseases or injuries, these innovations cannot come quickly enough. But there are serious hurdles that must be overcome before regenerative therapies can go mainstream.
To bring regenerative medicine to scale, it’s necessary to secure and direct smart investments in translational research to bring laboratory discoveries all the way to operating rooms. It’s not enough to do the needed work in the lab or in product rollout — we need focused thinking and action to connect the “R” with the “D” of the R&D equation, translating initial discoveries and innovations into life-saving products and processes.
Research is only part of the challenge. It’s also necessary to address underlying needs related to training the Regenerative Medicine workforce, designing prudent regulations, perfecting university technology transfer protocols, and forming new standards and guidelines for the ethical use of these transformative technologies.
MForesight: Alliance for Manufacturing Foresight was created to identify and address just these kinds of challenges across the diverse fields that comprise the advanced manufacturing sector. Following on a 2014 recommendation from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (“Report to the President: Accelerating U.S. Advanced Manufacturing” PDF), the new national independent think-tank was established with a mandate to not only scan for “the next big thing” in manufacturing but also identify best practices for federal investment, public-private partnerships, workforce training, regulation, and public education. Learn more about MForesight with our introductory post.
With this new report on problems and prospects for Regenerative Medicine, MForesight is addressing a core element of its mission: to provide rapid insights to business, government, and academic players in advanced manufacturing as they consider questions related to research investments and innovation strategy.
The report offers specific details on the partnerships, analyses, and investments that government, private sector, and university stakeholders can undertake right now to enable the prompt and safe development of this nascent field with the potential to revolutionize medicine.
From the development of 3D medical constructs for use in cell-based medical therapies to the creation of clear process standards that apply to both the manufacturing and the clinical environments, there’s a clear common thread to the report’s recommendations: Regenerative Medicine can benefit from cross-sector collaboration to create pre-competitive tools to decrease development cost and time. The recommendations — built on the work of an expert panel from across multiple industries — emphasize that pre-competitive research cooperation as well as coordination on workforce training and other issues can succeed without undercutting market forces.
Just as the researchers of the early 20th century could scarcely imagine the impacts of coming medical breakthroughs, so too are the medical and manufacturing communities today grasping for the implications of new regenerative therapies. This is an important moment for action to accelerate the prudent development of life-saving technologies.