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April 13, 2022

What is Regenerative Medicine?

Regenerative medicine is an exciting field in the future of medicine, using your own cells to repair and regenerate damage caused by disease and aging.
Image of blood samples

Regenerative Medicine 101

  • Regenerative medicine is an exciting field in the future of medicine, using the therapeutic ability of cells to repair and regenerate damage caused by disease and aging.
  • Regenerative medicine uses three types of cell: Somatic cells (normal adult cells), adult stem cells and pluripotent cells.
  • Regenerative medicine treatments are usually either an injection of stem cells or a form of tissue engineering.
  • Advancements in regenerative medicine are opening up possibilities for treatment of heart, bone and viral induced diseases and symptoms.

A New Era of Cell Based Medicine

Regenerative medicine is beginning to make a significant impact on our approach with healthcare, and for good reason.  Unlike traditional approaches to medicine that target the symptoms of disease with interventions or drugs, regenerative medicine leverages your own cells' ability to repair or regrow damages caused by diseases and aging. It's fascinating to think that we can treat disease with cells, especially our own cells, but until recently we never had access to these amazing regenerative treatments.

There are three types of cells that regenerative medicine commonly uses. Firstly, you have the somatic cells; the everyday cell from skin cell to neurons in your body. They are widely available in every adult's body, generally easy to extract, and great at healing specific tissue damages. Secondly, you have the adult stem cells. Compared with somatic cells, they are less common in an adult's body. Adult stem cells are a more “primitive” cell, capable of dividing and forming into many (though not all) different types of cell and tissues in your body through a process called differentiation. And lastly you have the pluripotent stem cells. They are the ultimate “primitive” cell, capable of becoming any other type of cell in your body through differentiation. We can find pluripotent stem cells in embryos or we can engineer your somatic cells into pluripotent stem cells.

So, you might be wondering, how do we use these cells in regenerative medicine? Well, I’m glad you asked. Currently, the majority of regenerative medicine takes two avenues: injection of cells (mostly different types of stem cells) to the damage site to induce recovery, or growing a replacement for transplant.

Your stem cells are amazing at helping you recover and repair. They consistently secrete a special type of genetic instruction, the RNA, that instructs other cells in their surroundings to start dividing and repairing. These RNA are released into their surroundings through small “pouches” called extracellular vesicles. This ability of stem cells to induce repair by other cells is coined as the paracrine effect. Injecting stem cells into the site of damage takes advantage of the paracrine effect, and artificially induces reparation of your body. This injection method of regenerative therapy has been successfully used in reparations of brain damage caused by myocardial arrest, and is giving us hope for treatments in multiple previously untreatable diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injury resulted paralysis.

Engineered replacement for damaged human tissue takes a slightly more radical approach. Now, think of your organ tissues like little huts. I know it's weird, but please, bear with me. To build it, you’ll first need a scaffold structure, supporting the wall panels as it goes up. This is very much the first step scientists do to engineer human tissues. Firstly, a scaffold is made with biomaterial to support the cells as they are prepared and layered. As you will need nails to hold the wall panels in a hut, you will need glue like biomaterial to hold the cells in place. However, unlike a hut, which is inhabited upon completion, when the tissue is finished, it will be left to mature, before transplanted into the patient's body. These series of techniques are called tissue engineering. Clinical application of tissue engineered skin replacement has already been in use, while tech for cardiac muscle and liver lining replacement is quickly advancing.

Recent advances in Regenerative medicine

COVID-19 and Regenerative medicine

A very interesting application of regenerative medicine lately is against COVID-19 symptoms. Severe cases of COVID-19 causes a cytokines storm or the ARD. This is when your body over reacts and goes haywire, resulting in hyper inflammation and immune overreaction. ARD is currently the most lethal of all COVID-19 symptoms, with patient survival rate at less than 50%.

A recent clinical trial by Lanzoni et al. suggested that by simple injection of adult stem cells (MSCs) at site of inflammation, the patient’s survival rate increased from 42% to 91%. Adult stem cells have shown tremendous ability in modulating the immune response and inflammation. This treatment has the potential of significantly reducing the fatality rate of COVID-19, and tremendously bolstering our ability to combat a similar pandemic, like COVID-19, in the future.

Regeneration of heart tissue

Heart disease is a leading cause of death among Canadians, edging out even the worst months of COVID-19. Yet, with traditional medicine heart disease is very difficult  to treat and often leaves behind significant and debilitating sequelae (consequence after treatment). Regenerative medicine is now opening up the possibility for us to reduce these consequences.

A new review published in Nature by Tenreiro et al. outlines the significant progress being made in cardiac tissue engineering. In the past years, we have significantly increased our ability to control the behaviour of pluripotent stem cells in differentiation into cardiac tissues. These culminated in the creation of a “mini heart”, or a heart organoid, by Drakhlis et their 2021 paper. Meanwhile another breakthrough in the field of biomaterial also opened up the possibility of blood vessel transplant into the human body. Patel et al. demonstrated that by using extracellular matrix, molecules secreted by cells, we can now create scaffolds much stronger and resembling the strength of natural blood vessels.

Regeneration of bones

2 million Canadians have osteoporosis. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will experience at least 1 fracture in their life due to osteoporosis.  Osteoporosis can be treated with traditional medicine, though the effect is often focused on management of symptoms with suboptimal effects.

Regenerative therapy is opening up a new avenue in the treatment of age related bone disease such as osteoporosis. Fowler et al. outlined in their paper the use of Wnt mimetic to induce regeneration of bone tissue. Wnt mimetic can be thought of as a molecule that resembles signals your cell looks for to start dividing and replacing damages. Delivery of the Wnt mimetic is shown to greatly help the reparation and restoration of bone damage.

How do I prepare for the future of regenerative medicine?

With the exciting promise of regenerative medicine on the horizon, it’s more important that ever to prepare your cells for the future. Live Cell Banking pauses the clock on your cell aging and provides your future self with more capable cells for stem cell use. See more about how Acorn can help preserve your best cells today..

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