We are all getting old! Yes, even you.
A huge chunk of the population are over sixty, some living well into their nineties. As we live longer, our joints, organs, and tissues begin to deteriorate, putting us in a bad state at that age. Currently, with medical technologies, we can perform extraordinary feats of augmentation and replacement, rejuvenation, transplantation, and utilize pacemakers and artificial joints.
But regenerative medicine goes one step further by promising the repair of dysfunctional body parts with our own living tissue!🤯
We have about 210 different types of cells in our body that each play a crucial role in executing bodily functions.
In an average adult, between 50 to 70 billion cells die every day. Cells are always created and destroyed in the human body and in fact, just as you are reading about 300 million cells died in your bodies!! Apoptosis is a form of programmed cell death and is vital as it maintains the balance of cells in the human body. While necrosis is the death of cells due to injury and is unplanned but can be fatal as it causes an inflammatory response causing patches of tissue to die which is not good.
But doesn’t that mean we would have to compensate for those cells that have died?
As we grow up, we get hurt and injured which results in our body parts becoming unusable as structural integrity is lost. Cells accumulate damage throughout our life which eventually leads to death ☠.
Many times we obtain injuries that are untreatable or permanently damage our organs, but we can use our body’s power to heal and cure these injuries!
What I mean by this is that we can essentially regenerate living tissue to replace the damaged one! Umm… Well not exactly.
There are already many species that can regenerate; Salamanders🦎 can often regrow their limbs, tails and in some cases even their eye.
But unfortunately, the only organ in the human body that can grow cells and regenerate is the liver.
So how can we allow the rest of our body to perform this trick?
In order to do so, we would have to utilize a 3D printed biomaterial scaffold of the tissue being built coated with layers of the patient's own cells, which is then harvested in an artificial environment mimicking the human body. This is what is known as tissue engineering which can already produce viable veins, bladders, and bone while more complex structures like the kidney and lungs are not far away.
Forms of Regenerative Medicine
There are many approaches that all work on amplifying the natural healing process of the human body in this field that include :
1.) 🔑 Tissue Engineering
A method involving a biologically compatible scaffold that is printed with cells from the subject, to whom the scaffold is to be implanted. This procedure takes place at the site where new tissue needs to be formed. This process of 3D printing is known as additive manufacturing which is the ability to fabricate objects using various materials.
Even though millions of patients have been treated using this form of engineering devices, this technology is still in its infancy as groundbreaking research is being done to make this process efficient and able to produce structures that are more complex.
2.) 🔑 Cellular Therapies
Millions of adult stem cells are found in every human. Stem cells are one of the elements that are used to repair the human body. There have been many studies and clinical trials that have illustrated that if stem cells are harvested and injected back into the human body where there is damaged tissue, then the reconstruction of tissue takes place under the right circumstances which involves the other forms of regenerative medicine.
These cells can be collected from many sources like blood, fat, bone marrow and have tons of applications with the possibilities being limitless.
3.) 🔑 Medical Devices and Artificial Organs
This is yet another form of how regenerative medicine can be used that can use the body’s property of healing and accelerate this process. There are many cases when an organ fails and the patient has to be placed on a waiting list to receive a transplant from a viable donor which both you and I know can take a long time.
Not only that but even after the organ is transplanted, the patient may experience side effects as the donor is required to take immunosuppression drugs which is essentially anti-rejection drugs so the organ doesn’t get rejected by the patient. This is very unhealthy and is why many medical devices and artificial organs are being developed to give the user a perfectly healthy alternative to the native organ or tissue. One example of this is circulation support; many devices such as Ventricular Assist Devices(VADs) are being used as a bridge to a heart transplant that can also be used for a long — term support system.
Having a limited population, adult stem cells are hard to collect but promise repairs for conditions such as sclerosis, types of diabetes, heart disease and much more. Technologies incorporating nano-technology are also being used to target spinal injuries, joint degeneration, and failing organs.
The applications of this topic are endless and we have just explored the tip of the iceberg as this technology is still at its infancy and tons of groundbreaking research needs to be done in order to solve the biggest problem, “immortality”. But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves as that’s a topic for another time, so keep an eye out for that! 😉
The role of regenerative medicine is to improve our life span by making it healthier rather than longer which will happen anyway if a healthy routine is being followed.
But do we even want to invest in longevity when we are already burdened with problems such as climate change and overpopulation?
Is it even ethical to do so?
- We can already perform transplants and create medical devices with our current technology but with regenerative medicine, we can take it one step further
- Better chance of the body accepting tissues or organs specifically engineered for the patient as their STEM cells are utilized which contains their genes and DNA so it is like growing their own tissue in a lab and inserting it back in the body
- Less chance of rejection when using such technologies since traditional transplant from donors are not specifically tailored towards the patient
- We are constantly aging but with the help of regenerative medicine, we can increase our healthspan which will result in a longer lifespan.