During the warmer months of the year, you may see a lizard scurrying around without a tail and wonder how that happened. Did it just fall off, or was it lobbed off? A few weeks later, another sighting of the same lizard will reveal a growing tail, and the question did it grow back by itself, or the hell did it happen?
This uncanny ability to drop off a body part at will is known as autonomy, and it is not exclusive to lizards only. Planarian worms can grow back their tails or heads, starfish grow back their limbs, and the salamander can grow back a replica of its lost tail. Unfortunately, no mammals can grow back an arm or a leg.
So Why Are Scientists Clambering to Learn Regenerative Medicine?
Understandably, losing a part of your body is life changing. You cannot function the same way you did before, and there is a restriction to your abilities. With regenerative medicine, scientists are looking for a way to restore standard functionality to the human form after damage to tissues or organs by disease or accidents. This branch of medicine will use the patient’s tissues to repair damaged cartilage, muscles, tendons or ligaments.
Categories of regenerative medicine
There are three categories of regenerative medicine
This regenerative medicine category uses stem cells obtained from an embryo, or amniotic fluid/placenta-derived stem cells. Sometimes, doctors can use stem cells from an adult, depending on the condition they are treating.
Use of biomaterials alone
This method uses natural biomaterials like collagen, bladder submucosa or intestinal submucosa. There are also synthetic biomaterials like polyglycolic acid (PGA) or polylactic acid (PLA) among others. The natural materials have a higher chance of biological recognition while the synthetic materials are structurally durable with a lower degradation rate when used in the bladder or urethra.
Use of scaffolds infused with cells
This method requires bioprinting to create artificial organs that have human tissue cells. While bioprinting cannot produce solid organs yet, it can help recreate a sound structure of the organ.
What Are Our Regenerative Options?
Some of the regeneration will probably occur outside the body while other options targeting back injury or arthritic patients can be internal. Our options include:
3D bioprinting can enable doctors to build the structure of the organ and then introduce living cells into it. Three-dimensional bioprinting lets you create anatomically correct structures that can function on the human form with complete efficacy. The biggest challenge lies in getting the compositional integrity right, but trials can be done using less complex organs like the skin. There is optimism that with progress in biomedical engineering, our options will broaden and expand what we can do with 3D bioprinting technology.
Scientists are attempting to grow organs or limbs outside of the body and then transplant them onto the body. The leading advantage of cloning in regenerative medicine is the fact that you do not need immune-suppressing medication once you receive the organ. These drugs make the body less likely to reject a new organ, which is one of the risks of organ donation. Considering the side effects for immune-suppressing medicines, which include fatigue, trouble and pain urinating, chronic pain and fever, this is a huge plus.
Nanobots are miniature surgeons introduced into the body to help repair damaged cells and tissues. They can replicate themselves and will help the body much like antibodies. Using nanobots, doctors can completely replace a missing organ or help in unblocking arteries or even boost your immunity. With nanobots, you do not have to worry about not reaching the diseased areas. Plus, they are incredibly durable and can operate in your body for a long time.
Drugs that can trigger regeneration by just ingesting or rubbing a cream onto the affected area are progressively in the pipeline. The drugs are like a vitamin helping stem cell to grow faster and bring healing. The first areas to be targeted with the treatment will be bone marrow and the liver.
Are We Close?
Regenerative medicine is the ultimate way to longevity for humanity. We are not talking about immortality here, just a better quality of life and incredible extension of human life. With every passing study, research and innovation, we are closer to living our best experiences yet.