What are the two chief complaints regarding Western medicine? One would have to be its over-reliance on prescription drugs. The other would have to be its tendency to treat symptoms rather than the root cause of the patient’s condition. Regenerative medicine resolves both.
What is regenerative medicine?
You have probably heard of stem cells. Regenerative medicine makes use of these, along with other biomaterials and molecules, to fix structures in the body that do not function properly due to disease or injury. Cells are taken from a donor and then put into a patient. The aim is to replace lost cells or organs, or fix faulty genes.
What are the applications of regenerative medicine?
Individuals with type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin and must receive daily insulin injections to keep their blood sugar levels in check. The islets of Langerhans are responsible for the production of insulin. If they can be regenerated, that would mean no more insulin injections and a return to normal sugar metabolism. That is one idea but it is not yet a reality.
There have been successes. The earliest form of cell therapy was the transfusion of blood. Blood transfusions are commonplace in most clinical settings.
That was followed by bone marrow transplants. Patients with radiation damage or blood cancers were able to make new, healthy blood cells using a donor’s bone marrow stem cells.
Finally, in cases of severe burn and scald injuries, a patient may not have a sufficient amount of undamaged skin for skin graft treatment. Skin cells can be isolated from a small biopsy and expanded in a specialized laboratory. Millions more can be grown quickly, then transported onto the burn wound to speed up healing.
Is regenerative medicine revolutionizing medical treatment?
The concept of stem cell therapy is rather simple. Many breakthroughs have been reported. One would think that the number of regenerative medicine treatments in medical use today is on the rise. Instead, those occurrences are disappointingly low.
So, what is holding back these developments? Scientists all over the world continue to work on new regenerative medicine solutions to common diseases and injuries. Yet, the list of approved cellular and gene therapy products on the FDA website is surprisingly short. In other words, while research continues to impress, medical application is still a long way off. Health authorities, like the FDA, are still not satisfied that all forms of regenerative medicine are safe.
Cost is also prohibitive. Regenerative medicine treatments require special production facilities and highly skilled staff. Many countries are on tight health budgets, making high costs a barrier to making such therapies a reality.
To make matters worse, desperate patients are paying huge sums of money for unproven treatments. For their safety, health authorities must enforce strict regulations and crack down on institutions that offer unlicensed products.
Innovative manufacturing methods must be combined with better science and better regulation in order for regenerative medicine to finally move into the realms of mainstream medicine. Only then, will patients and society as a whole see the true benefits.