Regenerative medicine is the treatment of damaged body tissue or organs to help them fully heal by regrowing (or regenerating) the damaged areas back to normal. The body already does this in some areas. For example, when you get a small cut on your skin, the wound heals by itself and in a short time you can’t see where the cut was. Regenerative medicine aims to have this happen on every part of your body, internally or externally, that is damaged or hurt by disease, by an accident, or even from aging.
There are three types of regenerative medicine. The first is called Regeneration. To start regeneration, doctors provide specific cells, such as stem cells, to the damaged areas and the cells multiply and rebuild the tissue or organ. This treatment has been done for a long time with bone marrow transplants. In a bone marrow transplant, new blood stem cells are transplanted in the marrow to help regrow the marrow. This procedure has been helpful in treating blood cell related cancers. Now doctors want to apply this process to regrow lungs and other organs damaged by disease.
The second type of regenerative medicine is called Rejuvenation. Many have already experienced some type of rejuvenation treatment such as when you go to the spa and detox or have a facial. The goal is to help the body naturally refresh and feel better. The aim of rejuvenation treatment is to have the body use its own mechanisms to self-heal damaged parts of the body including the heart, lungs, and nerves in a similar way that a broken bone repairs itself.
The third type of regenerative medicine is Replacement. Replacement uses healthy cells, tissue, or organs from living or diseased donors to be transplanted to the patient for a full recovery. This is already done with heart and kidney transplants. However, research is now focused on creating organs in the lab using stem cells and bio-printing technology so that transplantable organs are more available and less likely to be rejected by the patient’s body.
Much of the research involves stem cells. Stem cells are unique because the can be managed to develop into different types of cells needed for regeneration. For example, a stem cell can be transformed into brain cell, lung cell, or heart cell. Research is focused on obtaining stem cells from the patient (instead of from embryos) or bio-engineering stem cells for the regeneration process. For example some stem cells can be collected from a patient’s skin.
All of this research is important because it can increase the speed and likelihood that a patient’s damaged tissue or organs can be healed on their own or replaced with a bio-engineered organ so that they can resume their lives normally and healthily. Further, diseases, defects, or accidents that caused irreparable damage may have commonplace procedures in the future with regenerative medicine that greatly reduce the suffering of those afflicted.
You can learn more about Regenerative Medicine at the Mayo Clinic.