The field of regenerative medicine seeks to treat and cure diseases rather than just the symptoms they create. It combines multiple disciplines, such as biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, and mathematics to take advantage of the body’s inborn ability to heal itself.
Regenerative medicine attempts to replace, repair and regenerate human organs, tissues, and cells to restore normal body function. It is the passion of doctors who treat injuries and chronic pain, such as sports medicine and orthopedic specialists.Body parts, such as bladders, heart valves and arteries are already being treated using regenerative medicine.
An Introduction to Regenerative Medicine
Here’s a brief primer from the Institute of Regenerative and Cellular Medicine…
How Did Regenerative Medicine Get Its Start?
Contrary to what many people think, the concept of regenerative medicine is not new – its roots go back as far as the time of Aristotle, who described aspects of regeneration in his writings, although his works detailed the natural process of lizards and snakes re-growing new skin after shedding. He even observed animals re-growing their limbs.
In the 18th century, scientific interest in regeneration grew markedly. As historian, Shirley Roe, concluded in 1981, scientists could not say for sure whether humans could actually repair or regenerate parts of their bodies, but noted the possibility more frequently. The fact that DNA had not been discovered perpetuated the mystery.
When Gregor Mendel’s experiments in the mid-19th century led to the discovery of the basic mechanisms of heredity, the science of genetics was born and humanity took its first small steps towards deciphering the genetic code.
In 1901, physician Thomas Hunt Morgan wrote a paper on what was known about regenerative medicine to that point along with information about his experiments, observations, and interpretations of regeneration in tadpoles, earthworms and fish. He delivered a series of lectures on his research at Columbia University that same year. Although he later came to understand the critical nature of human genetics, his work in 1901 did not reflect this.
Morgan went on to study the regenerative powers of earthworms, plants, hydra, planarians, eggs, and embryos after each received a cut or wound. He noted two different but equally important outcomes. Some of his study subjects underwent cell proliferation to regenerate the missing part, while others transformed themselves into the piece without the benefit of cell proliferation.
Morgan concluded that the different outcomes represent a complex set of responses to changing internal and external factors. He continued his research and experimentation in regenerative medicine until his death in 1945, and today he is best known for winning a Nobel prize in human genetics.
Regenerative Medicine in the 20th and 21st Centuries
The field expanded into organ transplants around the middle of the 20th century. Stem cell and platelet-rich plasma therapy eventually became accepted practices as well.
Today, the future of regenerative medicine looks brighter than ever. Practitioners are using stem cell therapy to treat chronic pain, auto-immune and neurological disorders, hair loss, erectile dysfunction, as well as making aesthetic improvements.
There may even come a time when you can grow a replacement hand or kidney from your stem cells, or strengthen your weakened heart. None of this would be possible without the likes of Thomas Hunt Morgan and other pioneering scientists paving the way.