Imagine if a patient with kidney failure didn’t need a transplant but could instead regrow his or her own kidney? Or if a diseased heart could repair itself? The implications for the healthcare industry could be enormous.
This is the world of regenerative medicine, where researchers are looking for ways to tap into the body’s capacity to heal itself. Scientists are asking, “if salamanders and fish can regenerate limbs, why can’t humans?”
Current practices like skin grafts, blood transfusions and partial liver transplants all technically fall into the category of regenerative medicine, and the medical community is looking for more.
More than 100,000 people are waiting for organ transplants in the U.S. alone; every day 18 of them die.The challenge is further complicated by the fact that 25 percent of heart transplants and 40 percent of kidney transplants experience “acute rejection.”
If people could regrow their own organs, either inside the body or outside of the body for transplantation, the thinking is, there would be less need for donor organs and transplants would be more successful because they would come from the same person receiving the organ.
Success and Promising Research
One approach is to create a new organ from a patient’s stem cells, using scaffolding to build the organ’s physical structure, and then implant the new organ into the patient’s body. In 1999 the bladder was the first regenerated organ to be given to seven patients; as of 2014, these regenerated bladders are still functioning inside the beneficiaries.
At Kuban State Medical University in Krasnodar, Russia, an international team of scientists constructed a working esophagus by growing stem cells on a scaffold for three weeks; they then successfully implanted the organ in rats. Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School have successfully used adult stem cells to regenerate functional heart tissue, according to a study published recently in the journal Circulation Research.
Regeneration in the Body
Research is underway for ways to regenerate organs inside the human body as well. Studies at Kumamoto University in Japan and the National Cancer Institute of the U.S. have established methods for culturing kidney progenitor cells in vitro that maintain their ability to form the glomerulus, the tubular filter in human kidneys.
Researchers at Duke University are studying zebrafish–known for a robust regenerative capacity of a variety of body parts including the fin, spinal cord, retina, and heart. They are mapping zebrafish heart regeneration capabilities to understand how it works. Future studies will utilize functional approaches to break down zebrafish heart regeneration in hopes of unlocking the secret to enable human hearts to repair themselves.
Doctors at the Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School were using mice for cancer drug experiments when they notice that whenever they clipped the mice ears for identification, the ears grew back. It turned that that the mice had been manipulated to activate a specific gene, Lin28a, that fosters regeneration. The gene is active early in life but silenced in most mature tissues. This is why when humans are young, everything heals faster, from flesh wounds to fractures. If the Lin28a gene can be reactivated, limb and tissue regeneration may be possible.
Building new organs inside or outside the body could make transplantation much more successful, or even unnecessary, leading to improved health for those with acute organ failure. It could lead to less reliance on the medications needed for transplant acceptance.
MedicoRx® is an industry leader in specialty pharmacy, providing specialty medications and support to individuals with chronic illnesses requiring complex, high-cost treatment.