Some animals have the ability to regenerate after injury — a lizard that loses its tail can grow a new one, for example. We humans aren’t that lucky, but advances in regenerative medicine are showing promise for helping the body heal itself faster. Even in some organs that were previously thought to be irreparable.
Regenerative medicine is a combined discipline of biology, computer science, genetics, and robotics. It uses stem cells to repair, reprogram, or even replace human body parts that are damaged from injury, disease or birth defects. Where traditional medicine focuses on treating conditions, regenerative medicine aims to eliminate them completely.
And it’s not just true of tissue that already possesses the ability to self-heal. Regenerative medicine can heal cells that were once thought to be terminally differentiated, or no longer able to divide. Such cells exist in the heart, lungs, and nerves, and studies have shown their ability to remodel themselves and some ability to self-heal with a little help.
Stem Cell Therapy
The discipline is also sometimes referred to as stem cell therapy because many of the treatments involve the use of stem cells. Referred to as the body’s raw materials — all other types of cells evolve from these basic building blocks. In addition to regenerative medicine, stem cells can help scientists better understand diseases and test new medicines.
Through a process called differentiation, stem cells can grow into any other type of cell in the body. They can then be used to stimulate damaged organs and tissues to heal themselves.
Stem cells can be embryonic, adult, progenitor (meaning they come from amniotic fluid or the umbilical cord) or bioengineered. A common protocol is for doctors to first collect the patient’s own stem cells, reprogram them in the lab, and then deliver them back to the body.
This may sound like a sci-fi novel, but it's not. It may also seem controversial, but it is regulated and monitored with safety and ethical guidelines by governing bodies such as the National Institutes of Health.
Who Can Benefit from Regenerative Medicine?
Regenerative medicine can treat a variety of conditions from acute injuries to chronic diseases. In orthopedics, the greatest advances in treatment to date have been with soft-tissue injuries, such as tears or plantar fasciitis, as well as healing difficult wounds and improving healing around nerve-related injuries. It’s also shown promise for treating osteoarthritis, ligament and meniscal repair, articular cartilage regeneration and helping repair complicated fractures.
If you think regenerative medicine might be right for you, make an appointment today and learn how you can get back on the path to healing.