If you’ve heard anything about regenerative medicine, you’ve probably heard comments about how incredibly effective it is. That’s because, unlike other clinical practices, this type of medicine works to utilize the body’s natural healing powers through stem cells. Research in this area has allowed doctors to cure diseases and injuries that previously could not be helped. At Pheonix Regenerative Medicine, in Tempe, AZ, we are dedicated to helping our patients rediscover the beauty in life through healing.
What Is Regenerative Medicine?
This type of medicine is so powerful because it works by replacing organs or tissues that have been damaged, often through the use of stem cells. Physicians who specialize in this use chemistry, biology, engineering, computer science, robotics, genetics, and other fields to amplify the body’s natural healing process. By looking beyond the body’s immediate abilities to heal, physicians can bring new life into our damaged bodies.
The four main facets of this field of medicine are Tissue Engineering, Medical Devices, Cellular Therapies, and Clinical Translation.
What Are Stem Cells?
Before diving into this exciting field of medicine, it’s important to learn a couple of things about stem cells. Stem cells are basically the building blocks of the human body. Stem cells are pluripotent, meaning that they can evolve into any of the 220 different types of cells in the human body. Normal cells, on the other hand, can only create more of their own type of cell.
There are two types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells come from embryos, whereas adult stem cells can be found in the heart, brain, bone marrow, lungs, and other organs. As this field of medicine is improved and refined, medical professionals are learning more and more about stem cells and how to use them.
Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials
The engineering of tissues and other biomaterials is an exciting field because it allows physicians to literally build new organs and tissues. This strategy utilizes scaffolding in the geometric shape of the necessary tissue and can be done in a laboratory or be directly implanted into a person, depending on the need.
The scaffolding, when implanted in a body, attracts new cells to the scaffolding site. As they interact with the stem cells, they create new tissues. In time, new tissue in the form of the geometric scaffolding will form.
However, tissues can be engineered outside of the body as well. One exciting use of external tissue engineering, although it is still being evaluated in clinical trials, is the creation of heart valves made of human cells. Heart disease is one of the most common causes of death for adults in America, so this advancement in medicine will save innumerable lives.
The damage heart disease causes is different for each individual. Sometimes it forces people to get a heart transplant. Other times it damages the valves and requires a valve replacement. Currently, when someone needs a valve replacement, the options are a mechanical valve or a pig aortic valve. But with both of these options complications are relatively common.
Mechanical devices often cause blood clots to form around the device, so patients who choose this replacement option must take blood thinners to counteract the clots. Blood thinners can, of course, lead to a whole host of other medical issues. And when individuals choose to have a pig aorta valve replacement, they must take medications to keep the body from rejecting the pig valve. The chemicals in these medications change the biological makeup of the cells so when common minor tears occur, the valve cannot regenerate and fix itself.
Tissue Engineering in the Future
A very exciting advancement in this field is the ability to use 3d printer to create new organs ready for use in a human body! While this science is still being developed, eventually scientists will be able to use biodegradable scaffolding created from a 3D printer and then seeped in stem cells that are triggered to develop into the type of tissue needed.
Eventually, this science will allow for everything from working hearts to livers to be printed out and then used to replace organs that aren’t working correctly. This would revolutionize the way organ transplants are done, making organs available to the patients who need them!
Medical Devices and Artificial Organs
One of the primary dangers of getting an organ transplant is rejection. Even though someone else’s liver must be a transplant match for you, there is still a great risk. But regenerative medicine is working to reduce those risks.
One way in which this field of medicine helps reduce risks is through artificial organs. Doctors all over the world are developing mechanical devices that can do the work of organs. One example is the Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) that can be a long-term replacement for a heart.
Perhaps the most amazing advancement in the arena of artificial organs is in bladders. Doctors are now able to use the patient’s own cells to create a bladder in a laboratory that is genetically identical to the patient. This differs from the previously discussed tissue engineering because instead of focusing on the creation of new tissue, it focuses on using the patient’s own genetic makeup to create a bioidentical organ. This effectively erases the dangers of organ transplant rejection.
Artificial Organs in the Future
As far as complexity goes, the bladder has one of the least complicated structures in the body. That’s why doctors have been able to effectively create bioidentical bladders but are still working to create useful versions of other organs that maintain their structural integrity. In the future, this research will expand to allow doctors to create more complex bioidentical organs for their patients.
Cellular therapies work to help damaged parts of the bodies heal themselves rather than creating a scaffold or external medical device. Unlike the other concentrations in this kind of medicine, cellular therapies allow the body to heal itself on its own terms.
Our bodies are made to heal themselves, but sometimes this process doesn’t work as it’s intended. A young, healthy person may sprain their ankle and be in quite a bit of pain. But if they take time to rest their ankle, take some pain reliever, and put on ice on it, the ankle will most likely heal itself. But what about that same injury in someone who isn’t as young or healthy?
Someone who is older or has some health condition can sprain their ankle and take the exact same measures to heal themselves. But they might find that even with all their efforts, their body simply doesn’t heal the same way that it used to. Introducing stem cells into the area that needs to heal can help the tissues heal themselves, given the right circumstances.
What about a young child with cancer? While there are effective treatments for cancer, these treatments also destroy the patient’s healthy cells. The child’s body has a great need for new, healthy cells. In this case, the most common answer is to find a compatible donor willing to donate bone marrow, which is rich in stem cells. This new flush of stem cells helps the body regenerate.
Bone marrow is rich in stem cells, but it’s not the only place you can find stem cells. A baby’s umbilical cord generally has about half a cup of blood that is extremely rich in stem cells. These days, many people store their baby’s umbilical cord and stem cells in case the baby, or any family member, has a need for stem cells. Stem cells can also be collected from fat, dental pulp, skeletal muscle, blood, and other sources.
The Future of Cellular Therapies
This mode of medicine is being refined so it can have broader and more effective uses for restorative healing. The implications for the future of cellular therapy are quite literally endless. As stem cells are better understood, physicians will be able to create more directed therapies that can benefit everyone.
Clinical translation refers to the part of regenerative medicine that works to turn theories into useable medical interventions. It is perhaps the most exciting part of this field because it involves the creation of new devices, new treatments, and new ways to keep patients healthy.
Once scientists come up with a theory about how to help individuals restore and heal themselves through the use of stem cells, they collaborate with other medical professionals to create an experiment, like using a 3d printer to create a new heart. Once the doctors are able to create a heart that is able to pump blood, they then move on to clinical trials.
Clinical trials involve testing new developments in humans. Usually the patients who are involved in clinical trials aren’t suitable for other, more traditional, forms of treatments, so they enter clinical trials in the hope that the trial will help.
After many clinical trials, scientists compile and publish the results in medical journals so that other medical professionals can be kept abreast of medical progress. After several clinical trials are completed, and if they yield positive results, the medical intervention slowly becomes standard practice.
The world of regenerative medicine is a truly astonishing field. The implications of the use of stem cells know no bounds. Because of the research in this area, doctors are helping patients heal in ways they never thought they could. As we learn to embrace our own healing, powered by stem cells, we can allow our bodies to reach new heights.
The beautiful thing about this kind of medicine is that, as time goes on, this field is expanding exponentially. A handful of years ago, medical professionals thought that only embryonic stem cells were pluripotent. But now, research shows that adult stem cells are just as powerful as embryonic stem cells, opening up the field for research in so many exciting ways.
As scientists continue to experiment, learn more about regeneration, perform clinical trials, and create more medical interventions, this field of medicine will continue to offer more and more ways to help humans restore their health and live longer lives.
Contact Pheonix Regenerative Medicine, in Tempe, AZ today to have your questions answered or to schedule a consultation for regenerative joint injections, platelet-rich plasma, stem cell therapy, viscosupplementation, and surgery alternatives. Together, we can take a step towards restoring your health.