Wouldn’t it be great if we could regrow damaged parts of our body? It might sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but medicine has progressed to the point where this is possible—at least in a limited form.
Regenerative medicine is the term used to describe these types of therapies that essentially help the body repair itself at the cellular level using the body’s natural cell repair mechanisms. This approach to healing is still somewhat new, but there is a lot of potential to use it to treat previously untreatable diseases and birth defects.
Research into using regenerative medicine techniques has expanded dramatically in recent years, with some highly effective therapies becoming available to patients. Let’s take a look at how regenerative medicine works and some of the more common applications available today.
How Does Regenerative Medicine Work?
Regenerative medicine works by replacing tissues in organs that have been damaged by disease, injury, or hereditary issues. It differs from other treatments by its approach. This type of therapy seeks to heal the damaged organs directly, instead of treating the condition’s symptoms. Depending on the treatment methodology, regenerative medicine works at either the cellular or the DNA level by using the body’s natural repair mechanisms.
Types of Regenerative Medicine
There are three cutting-edge technologies used that fall under the regenerative medicine category:
- Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy
- Stem Cell Therapy
Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy (PRP) is an injection therapy that uses the patient’s platelets and plasma to speed up the healing process in joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Platelets are a type of blood cell, while plasma is the liquid part of the blood that is rich in proteins. In PRP therapy, some of the patient’s blood is drawn and then run through a centrifuge to concentrate and activate the platelets. The activated plasma is reinjected directly to the injured or damaged organ, which increases the number of reparative cells. This accelerates the healing process in the targeted area.
Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cells are the basic building blocks of the body. They can transform and change to become any type of molecular cell present within the body. While the use of embryonic stem cells remains a controversial topic in science and medicine, you may be surprised to learn that adults have stem cells too. Stem cells can be found in bone marrow, or fat, within adult tissue, but only in small quantities.
Found in small quantities in adult tissue, such as bone marrow and fat, adult stem cells are a bit more limited in their use than embryonic stem cells. That said, adult stem cells have proven to be effective in treating degenerative diseases, including heart disease, spinal cord injuries, osteoarthritis, and others. The treatment works by harvesting adult stem cells, multiplying and manipulating them for specific use in a lab, and then injecting them into the damaged organ. The new cells that form contribute to the regeneration of the tissue, and allow for a faster recovery. While these treatments are still relatively new, ongoing research is finding more and more uses for stem cells all the time and is one of the most promising areas for future treatments.
Perhaps one of the more cutting-edge regenerative medicine therapies is the use of exosomes. Exosomes work to repair the body at the genetic level. Exosomes are part of a person’s genome [genetic makeup] that contains small packages of cellular signals designed to allow the body to maintain optimal functioning. They contain proteins such as growth factors, enzymes, and transcription factors that stabilize cell structure, function, and signaling.
Exosomes contain messenger RNA (mRNA- Blueprint for proteins) and microRNA (miRNA- Assists in sending signals between cells). They allow for the transportation of these proteins to their target cells to assist in optimizing cell function.
Exosome therapy has anti-inflammatory, regenerative, and tissue remodeling effects by providing genetic material and instructions to damaged areas of the body, which in turn promotes healing.