Regenerative medicine, as the name applies, is the branch of medicine dealing with the replacement of ailing or defective body parts. There exist numerous channels to the development of new organs, tissues and cells, including medical devices, artificial organs, bioengineered tissues and cellular therapies (notably stem cells).

With so many options on the table, it’s worth taking a look at where we’re at in the process – and there’s no better way to say that than exploring what the experts are saying. Let’s examine regenerative medicine from the professional point of view today. Here are some of the main areas in which we see experts commenting.


The Timeline


First and foremost, some experts express frustration that we can’t speed up the process. Medicine proceeds at its own pace, just like all of technology, but a faster timeline would make a huge difference. At least, that’s according to Bernard Siegal of the Regenerative Medicine Foundation, who says “If we can move this field faster, all of humankind will benefit.”

Other scientists point out that, indeed, we had initially expected faster progress.

“In 1998, the publication of the generation of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines [1] contained the statement ‘These cell lines should be useful in human developmental biology, drug discovery, and transplantation medicine,’” point out Paul Whiting, et al, in their article Progressing a human embryonic stem-cell-based regenerative medicine therapy towards the clinic.

Sadly, they add, “Progress towards the utilization of this technology for regenerative medicine therapies has perhaps not been as rapid, or indeed, as straightforward, as hoped or expected at the time.”


The Promises


That doesn’t mean scientists and researchers lack hope or faith in critical technologies such as stem cells. This alternative therapy has accumulated a massive following, partially because its promised powers are so vast and varied. Stem cells are sometimes called “mother cells,” because they can give rise to so many different kinds of tissues – cells the body otherwise could not regenerate.

“Stem cell research is the key to developing cures for degenerative conditions like Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease from which I and many others suffer,” Stephen Hawking told the Independent several years ago.

Dr. Andre Terzic, speaking for the Mayo Clinic, agrees with the assessment that stem cells are critical: “Mayo Clinic has embraced regenerative medicine as a strategic investment in the future of healthcare.”

Moreover, some experts points out, we need to stop seeing pharmacology as the only answer to life’s ailments. Regenerative medicine has a huge hand to play as well.

“We aren’t made of drugs, we’re made of cells,” says President and CEO of BioInformant, Cade Hildreth. “Stem cells, or stem cells in combination with pharmaceuticals, will be the future of medicine.”


The Roadblocks


As with any other kind of technology, the way is not as smooth as we might like it to be.

“RM has achieved great successes, but there are still several challenges to tackle before it could be used on a daily basis in clinical practice,”say Federica Colombo, et al, in their study Regenerative medicine: Clinical applications and future perspectives“The crucial point of this revolution is represented by the appropriate and valid translation from bench to bedside.”

Dr. Arnold Caplan modifies that sentiment slightly, pointing out that there is an intermediary step: “We have to take stem cells from ‘bench to business to bedside.’”

An example of one of these challenges? Gladly. For instance, “Fundamental research and drug development for personalized medicine necessitates cell cultures from defined genetic backgrounds,”explain Christoph Lipps, et al, in their paper Expansion of functional personalized cells with specific transgene combinations. In other words, a person in need of stem cells can’t utilize cells from just anyone: A genetic match is needed. Therefore, “providing sufficient numbers of authentic cells from individuals poses a challenge.”


The Hope


Despite the roadblocks and the stunted timeline, though, the world remains hopeful that stem cells can bring to fruition every promise they have offered.

“Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, brain and spinal cord disorders, diabetes, cancer—at least 58 diseases could potentially be cured through stem cell research,” the Hon. Rosa L. DeLauro told Congress more than 10 years ago. “Diseases that touch every family here in America and throughout the world.

In the last decade, that hope has not changed. In fact, the race is on between countries that seek to become hubs of regenerative medicine research.

“The Japanese want to be the regenerative medicine center of the world,” Colin Lee Novick, managing director of the CJ Partners biotech consulting firm in Tokyo, told the Harvard Business Review. “To be able to do that, they need to entice companies to come to Japan, and they need to entice their own pharmaceutical companies to license in and obtain the best.”

Japan isn’t the only contender, of course. The United States and other developed nations also have a claim to the throne. What we should take away from this isn’t that good-natured scientific rivalry exists in this arena, but rather than regenerative medicine has enough promise to inspire such a race.

In the end, hope is the overriding expert sentiment when it comes to regenerative techniques, and we expect to see that for years to come.

As with any form of medical treatment, you should consult with your physician before embarking on any treatment plan. The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be deemed accurate for the purposes of diagnosing your particular medical condition.

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