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Regenerative Medicine Breakthrough: Incredible Hydrogels Repair Wounds

The word “regenerate” is synonymous with “renew,” “restore,” and “revive.” So, when we speak of regenerative medicine, though it may be the first time you encounter this term, you may begin thinking about how science repairs the body.

Diseases and illnesses –cancer, coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke, to name a few – cause damage to organs, tissues, and cells.

Unfortunately, conventional treatments and traditional medicines sometimes fail to prevent, stop, or fix the damage.

Fortunately, there’s regenerative medicine to the rescue.

In fact, a recent breakthrough in regenerative medicine has brought additional medical options to people with damaged hearts or vocal cords.

Regenerative Medicine Breakthrough

Male and female scientist look at their lab work results on a laptop
Male and female scientist look at their lab work results on a laptop

When defining regenerative medicine, biochemical engineer Peter Dunnill (1938-2009) and cardiac surgeon Chris Mason referred to the one given in a study published in 2006 by PLoS Medicine as “probably most suitable as a starting point.”

According to that study, regenerative medicine focuses “on the repair, replacement, or regeneration of cells, tissues, or organs to restore impaired functions.” It cited “congenital defects, disease, and trauma” as some of the reasons why cells, tissues, and organs get damaged.

Moreover, according to the authors, regenerative medicine is anything but traditional as it uses a mix of “technological approaches,” which include advanced cell therapy, stem cells, and tissue engineering.

When Dunnill and Mason gave their own definition for an editorial titled “A Brief Definition of Regenerative Medicine” for the January 2008 issue of Regenerative Medicine, they came up with this:

“‘Regenerative medicine replaces or regenerates human cells, tissue, or organs, to restore or establish normal function.’”

In that editorial, first published online by Future Medicine in December 2007, Dunnill and Mason admitted that they “deliberately not included ‘repair’” in their own definition. They believed the term “‘repair’” didn’t quite fit in when it comes to the basic goal of regenerative medicine, which is “to return the patient to full health.”

For them, the term “falls . . . within earlier technologies.”

A recent regenerative medicine breakthrough challenges that 13-year-old opinion.

Scientists developed a biomaterial meant to repair wounds, particularly in damaged hearts and vocal cords, according to McGill.

Wikipedia defines “biomaterial” as “a substance that has been engineered to interact with biological systems [e.g., the nervous system, the respiratory system] for a medical purpose.”

Advanced Science published the study in November 2021.

In an interview with McGill, Guangyu Bao, one of the eight authors of the study, said that “there was no injectable material strong enough” for damaged hearts and vocal cords. Their constant movement – the heart beats non-stop and people always talk – makes their “healing . . . challenging.”

Bao, a Ph.D. candidate at McGill University in Canada, and his colleagues developed an “injectable hydrogel” – the injectable biomaterial mentioned earlier – “for wound repair.”

Their injectable hydrogels have a structure that permits “live cells to grow or pass through” it “to repair the injured organs.”

When put to test, the newly developed injectable hydrogels were tough enough to withstand the constant movements of the vocal cords.

In addition, the scientists said that this regenerative medicine breakthrough will aid in further studies in “tissue engineering and the creation of model tissues for drug screening.”

Furthermore, according to McGill, they’re thinking of creating an artificial lung using “hydrogel technology” to assess the efficacy of COVID-19 drugs.

Two small vials of COVID-19 vaccine and a thin injection
Two small vials of COVID-19 vaccine and a thin injection

What Is An Example Of Regenerative Medicine?

Male medical practitioner fills a large injection with yellowish fluid
Male medical practitioner fills a large injection with yellowish fluid

The human body can heal itself but not all the time, according to online health resource WebMD.

It can heal a simple cut or bruise on its own but not when the body’s insulin levels go up beyond the acceptable range or when a tumor appears and starts growing.

Scientists and doctors use regenerative medicine to deal with some forms of cancer and diabetes (Type 1); to repair damaged tissues caused by brain injury; to improve the immune system; and to conduct organ transplants, just to name a few, according to WebMD.

The McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Pennsylvania names cell/cellular therapies (e.g., the use of stem cells) and artificial organs and medical devices (e.g., ventricular assist devices or VADs used in heart transplant) as two areas of concentration.

Cell therapies are used for Alzheimer's Disease, cirrhosis (a liver disease), kidney failure, spinal cord injury, osteoarthritis, and Parkinson's Disease, among others, according to research website LifeMap Discovery.

The Maryland-based Association for the Advancement of Blood & Biotherapies said that modern treatment of Type 1 diabetes includes the use of cord blood stem cells.

By the way, aside from cord blood, aka umbilical cord blood, other sources of adult stem cells, as identified by WebMD, are blood, bone marrow, dental pulp, fat, and skeletal muscle.

For sports-related injuries, according to Veritas Health, the following types of regenerative medicine treatments are used: platelet rich plasma (PRP), prolotherapy (or proliferation therapy), stem cell treatment, and cartilage (a connective tissue) regeneration surgery.

Is Regenerative Medicine FDA Approved?

Female wearing white T-shirt, with the words ‘Proud Blood Donor’ for StemExpress
Female wearing white T-shirt, with the words ‘Proud Blood Donor’ for StemExpress

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said on its website that it regulates stem cell products.

In the U.S., FDA only approves the use of blood-forming stem cells or hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) from cord blood “for use in patients with disorders that affect the production of blood.”

As for other uses, FDA doesn’t give its approval.

The FDA approved the following cellular and gene therapy products:

ABECMA

BREYANZI

GINTUIT

IMLYGIC

KYMRIAH

LAVIV

LUXTURNA

MACI

PROVENGE

RETHYMIC

STRATAGRAFT

TECARTUS

YESCARTA

ZOLGENSMA

For HPC (hematopoietic progenitor cells), Cord Blood, the following are FDA-approved: ALLOCORD, CLEVECORD, HEMACORD, and Ducord.

In addition, FDA approved HPC, Cord Blood from the following:

a. Bloodworks (Seattle, Washington)

b. Clinimmune Labs (University of Colorado Cord Blood Bank)

c. MD Anderson Cord Blood Bank (University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center)

d. LifeSouth Community Blood Centers (Gainesville, Florida)

As of July 22, 2020, FDA has not approved any exosome products.

FDA doesn’t also approve the use of these regenerative medicine products (the ones indicated below)...

a. exosome products

b. stem cell products

c. amniotic fluid

d. human umbilical cord blood

e. stromal vascular fraction

f. Wharton’s Jelly

...to treat the following:

a. autism

b. blindness

c. chronic pain

d. COVID-19

e. orthopedic condition (e.g., back pain, shoulder pain, hip pain, knee pain)

f. neurological disorder (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, stroke)

g. cardiovascular or lung diseases (e.g., emphysema, heart disease)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that stem cell treatments not approved by FDA can cause infections and can lead to tumor growth.

The Verge reported that some people who received non-FDA-approved stem cell treatments/drugs became blind while others experienced bacterial infections and kidney failure.

Tissue Engineering And Regenerative Medicine

Doctors and nurses perform a surgical operation inside an operating room
Doctors and nurses perform a surgical operation inside an operating room

A study published by Frontiers in March 2020 described tissue engineering and regenerative medicine (TERM) as “a multidisciplinary science.”

Canada Research Chair in Biomaterials and Musculoskeletal Health Jianyu Li told McGill that when he and his team were able to develop the injectable hydrogels discussed earlier through the “synergy of materials science, mechanical engineering, and bioengineering.”

Aside from these fields of studies mentioned by Li, the Frontiers-published study also named biomechanics (the study of biological systems,” according to Britannica) and cell biology as part of TERM.

Though they work side by side, the authors of the said study differentiated the two.

Tissue engineering “combines cells, scaffolds [engineered materials used for medical purposes, per Wikipedia] and growth factors to regenerate tissues or replace damaged or diseased tissues.”

Regenerative medicine uses strategies (e.g., gene therapy and cellular therapy) along with tissue engineering “to induce in vivo tissue/organ regeneration.”

The Latin term “in vivo” means “within the living,” and when used in medical context, it means that a researcher performs a procedure (e.g., an experiment, a test) “in or on a whole living organism” (e.g., a human being, a lab mouse, a plant), according to Medical News Today.

Two examples of engineered tissues, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), are artificial cartilage and artificial skin, and the FDA approved of their use. Nonetheless, NIH said that their function is still limited when used to treat people.

In a Reuters report, as referenced by England-based biotech company Celixir, tissue engineering was a $7 billion-industry back in 2016.

By 2023, projected figures could reach $17 billion.

Conclusion

Accidents, illnesses, diseases, and injuries are part of life – and so do science, and regenerative medicine is only but a section of science that gives hope to seemingly hopeless medical cases.

The injective hydrogel hopefully would be able to achieve its purpose.

Stories of people’s battle against debilitating diseases – against the Big C, for one – are everywhere. One good news is that science never gives up, and one proof is regenerative medicine.

About The Authors

Landon Morton

Landon Morton - Landon is a professional character coach, motivational speaker, and consultant who values commitment, service, and excellence. Landon brings to your company valuable insights gained from his battlefield experience as a decorated combat veteran, enabling you to unleash the untapped potential of your employees. He illustrates how the invaluable talent that each individual brings to your company will positively affect your mission through real-world examples.

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