Regenerative Medicine

The Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison describes ‘Regenerative Medicine’ as ‘a new scientific and medical discipline focused on harnessing the power of stem cells and the body’s own regenerative capabilities to restore function to damaged cells, tissues and organs.’

Stem cells that are found in the umbilical cord blood of new born children have the ability to renew and regenerate themselves. A stem cell, through the process of mitosis, can divide itself to either become a specialized cell like a brain cell or muscle cell, or remain a stem cell. They are also able to repair internal damage caused by any type of disease, disorder or trauma. Stem cell transplantation, stem cell grafting and regenerative medicine are some of the ways in which these cells are used to cure disorders and illnesses.

Regenerative medicine includes a wide range of scientific disciplines, such as biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology and immunology. Scientists from these fields have been conducting research and studies in this domain and have identified three methods of using regenerative medicine. They are cellular therapies, tissue engineering and medical devices and artificial organs.

Cellular Therapies – In this method, cellular materials, in most cases adult stem cells, are extracted and stored and then injected into the site of injury, tissue damage or disease. These cells, thereafter, repair the damaged cells or regenerate new cells to replace the damaged ones.

Tissue Engineering – This method is related to the field of biomaterials development and utilizes a combination of functioning tissues, cells and scaffolds to engineer a fully functioning organ which is then implanted into the body of the receiver in place of a damaged organ or tissue.

Medical Devices and Artificial Organs – When a body organ fails, the most common method of treatment is to replace it with a donor organ. Donor organs are not easily available and can pose as a hindrance in such cases. Even if a donor is available, he or she may need to take immunosuppressant drugs before the transplant and these drugs have been known to cause side-effects. In such circumstances, medical devices that imitate the function of the failed organ can be used, instead of transplantation. An example of one such device is the ventricular assist device (VAD) that is used in place of heart transplants.