What is regenerative medicine, what are its benefits, and is it for you?

Stem cells are a class of undifferentiated cells that are able to differentiate into specialised cell types. — 123rf.com

Regenerative medicine is a relatively new field in which experts look for therapies and strategies similar to those that help your body heal itself.

In the 1990s, tissue engineering became popular for stem cell research and for procedures like skin grafting, which sparked interest in regenerative medicine.

It is defined as the process of replacing or “regenerating” human cells, tissues, or organs in order to restore function.

Growth factors and cytokines are released back into damaged tissue to aid healing (e.g., chronic wound healing).

By replacing damaged tissues or by stimulating the body’s own repair mechanisms to heal damaged tissues or organs, this field holds promise for regenerating damaged tissues and organs in the body.

When the body is unable to heal itself, regenerative medicine may allow scientists to grow tissues and organs in the laboratory and then implant them safely.

Regeneration in humans happens at three levels:

  • Tissue: This includes blood, skin, bone, or muscle.
  • Cellular: This includes cell structures like neurons or axons that are responsible for cell growth and reproduction in your body
  • Molecular: This includes small molecules that are the building blocks of your body, like DNA, fats and carbohydrates.

Regenerative medicine and cellular therapies will merge and expand as more applications are researched, potentially treating many disease conditions and improving health.

Regenerative medicine research is still in its infancy, but some forms have already been implemented.

Among these is stem cell therapy, which involves the growth of specialised stem cells in a laboratory.

If needed, they can be instructed to behave like specific types of cells, such as those in the heart, blood, or nerves.

You may be able to use these lab-made heart muscle cells to repair or replace damaged heart cells if you suffer from heart disease, for example.

Regenerative medicine shows potential for treating certain cancers, skins wound, cardiovascular tissue repair, brain injury tissue repair and immune system improvements.

What’s available out there

Cellular therapies

We all have millions of adult stem cells as it’s one of the ways our bodies repair themselves.

Studies have shown that when adult stem cells are grouped and injected into areas where there is disease or tissue damage, they can help rebuild new tissue under certain circumstances.

Adult stem cells can be taken from various parts of your body, such as blood, dental pulp, cord blood (blood found in the umbilical cord and placenta after birth), fat bone marrow and skeletal muscle.

The use of cellular therapy to regenerate tissue and organs is currently being studied by scientists.

In platelet-rich plasma therapy, your physician will ensure the injection is given precisely where it is needed. — FilepicIn platelet-rich plasma therapy, your physician will ensure the injection is given precisely where it is needed. — Filepic

Tissue engineering and biomaterials

The process involves putting biomaterials into your body, such as scaffolds made from metals, ceramics, and polymers, where new tissue needs to grow.

Research on this method is ongoing, but it has been used on a number of people.

Medical devices and artificial organs

In the event that your organ is damaged and cannot be repaired, doctors usually recommend that you undergo an organ transplant.

When you need a replacement kidney or lung, time is of the essence.

Finding a matching donor can be challenging, and finding the right match can take a long time.

Using engineering and robotics, regenerative medicine has developed technologies to support failing organs.

For instance, your doctor can insert a ventricular assistive device (VAD) into the body to help with circulation issues during difficult transplant processes.

Plenty of benefits

Regenerative medicine offers the following benefits:

Faster healing

In contrast to conventional methods of treatment, regenerative medicine allows patients to heal more quickly.

The body’s ability to heal is enhanced by stem cells and platelet-rich plasma (PRP), which work rapidly to repair injured joints and tissues.

You may begin to notice a dramatic difference after a few weeks, especially if you combine minimal recovery time with complementary therapies such as physical therapy.

Using your own cells for treatment

In regenerative medicine procedures, your own cells are used to heal your injuries, so they are generally considered low risk.

Cells for stem cell therapy are usually derived from fat or bone marrow.

Platelets for PRP therapy are simply separated from your blood and mixed with your own plasma after your blood is drawn.

No anaesthesia or medication is required

Using ultrasound technology, your physician will ensure the injection is given precisely where it is needed.

You may receive numbing medication prior to or during your treatment to ensure minimal discomfort, but you won’t require pain medication or general anaesthesia with regenerative medicine.

However, you and your doctor can discuss whether you should take pain medication after you see results from PRP or stem cell therapy.

Shorter recovery time

It is usually possible for patients to return to normal activities after stem cell or PRP therapy, both of which are outpatient procedures.

Most patients experience minor bruising or discomfort following the injection, which will subside within a few days.

Regenerative medicine allows you to return to your normal routine much faster than surgery or other procedures.

Avoid surgery

You may be able to avoid surgery and reduce pain with both stem cells and PRP therapy.

You may be able to benefit from a minimally invasive treatment option that uses your own cells to heal your injury.

Is it right for you?

It is possible to treat and even cure diseases or conditions with cellular-derived therapies, including stem cell-based products.

Cell therapy dates back to the time of blood transfusions, which are now common in the majority of clinical settings.

Following that, bone marrow transplantation came next.

Patients with radiation damage or blood cancer were able to make healthy blood cells by using a donor’s bone marrow stem cells.

In cases of severe burns and scalds, when the undamaged skin of the patient cannot be used for skin grafts, a patient can also undergo cell therapy using their own cells.

However, the field of regenerative medicine is still far from being able to cure chronic conditions like stroke, heart disease and autoimmune diseases.

As such, the practice of regenerative medicine has not yet become mainstream in most areas of medicine.

So, beware of the many unapproved products that are being marketed for treating or curing a variety of diseases or medical conditions.

All medical products require approval as drugs, devices or biological products before they can be sold.

The inappropriate advertisement of such unapproved products in various media demonstrates their wide distribution.

Discuss with your healthcare provider regarding these products before purchasing them to know if they are suitable for you.

Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, and a functional medicine practitioner. For further information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only, and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

Follow us on our official WhatsApp channel for breaking news alerts and key updates!

Next In Health

Our sense of balance is crucial to prevent falls
When loneliness triggers those sugar cravings
Prostate cancer cases to double in two decades
Staying active from ages 15 to 17 important for adult mental well-being
How ADHD can affect your working life, both for good and for bad
Swap that steak for sardines to reduce risk from diet-related diseases
Start them young when it comes to teaching kids about food safety
Get active at your desk for both health and productivity
The value of games – Sudoku, crossword, video – for your mind
Drink more water! 5 tips to help beat the heat from a TCM perspective

Others Also Read