The body has the capability to repair and heal itself. The blood has components to stop bleeding and fight viruses and bacteria, playing vital roles in faster healing and recovery process. Tissues in the body have hormones and other complex molecules, which help control, stabilize, and process different organ functions.
However, disease, trauma, and congenital anomalies can render cells, tissues, and organs that are non-functional. And this is when regenerative medicine comes to the rescue.
Regenerative medicine refers to a scope of medicine developing methods to repair or replace diseased or damaged cells, tissues, or organs. It aims to enhance the natural healing process of the body to attain regenerative goals, such as regrowing hair from alopecia or baldness and joint regeneration from a sports injury with the help of stem cells.
The history of regenerative medicine began in ancient times. Regeneration has been a controversial topic of interest for thousands of years, which is even depicted in Greek mythology. The early accounts of regenerative medicine date back in the early 16th century with the concept of tissue grafting. Hence, regenerative medicine came from the concepts of artificial hips or surgical implants and skin grafts.
Because of the historical wave of enthusiasm of the researchers, tissue engineering became known as one of the latest developments in regenerative medicine. With advanced medical technology, researchers are able to see the cellular composition of tissues and organs, as well as how stem cells can be programmed to divide and generate new cells.
Stem cells are the foundation of regenerative medicine research and development. In adults, the stem cells in the bone marrow develop into blood components such as white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. Adult stem cells create similar cells such as bone marrow to regenerate blood cells.
Researchers also discovered embryonic stem cells that come from embryos with the ability to divide and generate more stem cells. They can become any type of body cells (specialized cells), beneficial in tissue and organ repair and regeneration. Like embryonic stem cells, perinatal stem cells or stem cells from the umbilical cord and amniotic fluid have the ability to become specialized cells.
Studies are on their trial stages using induced pluripotent stem cells, in which adult cells undergo genetic reprogramming to become embryonic stem cells. This technique helps prevent cellular rejection from new cells.
The different regenerative medicine treatments include stem cell therapy, platelet-rich plasma injection (PRP), tissue engineering, and artificial organ production.
Learn more about the science of healing through regenerative medicine treatments below.
Platelets or thrombocytes are made in the bone marrow inside the bones. They’re small, colorless cell components in the blood which are responsible for forming clots to prevent or stop bleeding.
In PRP therapy, the patient receives injections of concentrated platelets to heal injured ligaments, tendons, joints, and muscles faster. That’s why PRP injections are popular in treating sports injuries.
Here are the important things you need to know about platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections:
During the procedure, the doctor draws blood, place it in a centrifuge, a medical equipment that separates the plasma (containing platelets) from the other blood cells. After which, the doctor injects the pure plasma back into the patient’s joint injury to promote faster healing.
Using ultrasound technology, doctors ensure that PRP injections target the correct area. This procedure takes about 30 minutes, depending on the target area.
The concentrated platelet injection mimics the healing process like when blood swells in an injury site. Once the platelets reach the target area, they release growth factors, accelerating the body signals to continue the reparative or healing process.
Tiger Woods received PRP injections in 2010, which was back then still under experiment, and has become a popular treatment for sports injuries. Today, PRP injections help treat joint injuries, muscle injuries, torn ligaments, and arthritis-related pain.
PRP injections are popular cosmetic procedures too. Dermatologists use PRP injections to treat androgenic alopecia or pattern baldness and facial treatment to reduce signs of aging.
A PRP treatment costs US$250 to US$1,500 per session.
Insurance policies may or may not cover PRP therapy. Patients need to check with their insurance provider to know if PRP is part of their plan. Most insurance providers don’t cover PRP treatments for cosmetic reasons, like hair loss.
It usually takes several weeks or months for PRP therapy to start working. For instance, it may take up to six months to observe the full effects of PRP injections in the hair scalp and skin. A patient may need several sessions of PRP injections to maintain results, like in hair loss treatment.
It’s important for the patient to eat before the PRP therapy session since the procedure involves drawing blood to avoid a lightheaded feeling or dizziness. The patient should report any intense or sharp pain during the procedure. After the procedure, the patient should avoid washing the area for 48 hours.
Regenerative medicine includes stem cell therapy, which offers amazing future medical benefits in treating degenerative diseases, serious injuries, and chronic medical conditions. As mentioned, stem cells divide to form daughter cells that become new stem cells or specialized cells with a specific function, like bone cells, heart muscle cells, blood cells, or brain cells. They can replace old and damaged cells in patients via stem cell injection to treat disease.
Here are the important things you need to know about stem cells injections:
In stem cell injection, the stem cells grown in the lab are programmed to become specialized cells like nerve or heart cells. The doctor implants or injects stem cells to the patient in the injured or diseased area. For instance, a patient with heart disease can receive stem cell injection into the heart muscle to help repair the defective cardiac muscle.
Stem cell injections aim to repair and regenerate damaged tissues.
Patients who have osteoarthritis, burns, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, stroke, type 1 diabetes, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease might benefit from stem cell injections.
Stem cell therapy also shows promising benefits in testing new drugs to ensure the effectiveness and safety of investigational drugs. Testing new drugs using stem cell injection involves assessing if there are changes in nerve cells after the procedure. Doctors and researchers study how to program cells into tissue’s specific cells for testing new drugs using stem cell technology.
The cost of stem cell therapy ranges from US$5,000 to US$20,000.
The effectiveness of stem cell therapy depends on several factors including the severity of the injury, the patient’s age, lifestyle habits, and the type of injected stem cells. In a research report, patients saw improvement in signs and symptoms of spinal cord injury in less than six months.
Before stem cell therapy, the patient shouldn’t take any anti-inflammatory medications. The recovery period from this stem cell injection is two to three weeks. The patient may feel mild pain, soreness, and stiffness from the extraction site of the affected joint. After the procedure, the patient needs to rest for 24 to 48 hours.
One of the essential fields of regenerative medicine is tissue engineering. Here are the important things you need to know about tissue engineering:
Tissue engineering involves a complex process, forming a three-dimensional or 3D functional tissue for repairing, replacing, and regenerating tissue or organ.
Tissue engineering isn’t widely used in patient treatment. However, it plays a crucial role in medical research, such as testing new drug formulations for personalized medicine. For instance, researchers use the human liver, kidney, or other organ tissues in rats to determine how the human body could also respond to the newly formulated drug.
Artificial organs include bone and joint replacements, sensory organ replacements (like eye replacement), organ replacement, and skin and soft tissue replacements. Biomedical engineers create devices, procedures, diagnostic machines, or systems for the production of artificial internal organs and replacements for body parts.
Here are the important things you need to know about bioartificial organ production:
Bioartificial organ manufacturing produces artificial organs by using stem cells or adult cells or both. Living cells and biomaterials, like growth factors, polymers, bioactive agents, and biochemical signals are essential aspects of artificial organ production.
There have been cases of using artificial organs in the human subject, such as a laboratory-grown synthetic trachea or windpipe. However, the biggest issues that bioartificial organ transplantation faces are creating and maintaining a good blood supply to artificially grown tissues.
Regenerative medicine has come a long way and continuous research and development are being conducted to help improve healthcare. Nowadays, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections use the patient’s natural healing system in improving musculoskeletal problems by repairing and renewing cells, triggering the body’s healing process. In addition, the healthcare industry continuously researches stem cells because of their promising medical benefits.