n a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, regenerative medicine is called the “next evolution of medical treatments.” The report says the field not only “holds the realistic promise of regenerating damaged tissues and organs in the living body” but “empowers scientists to grow tissues and organs in the laboratory and safely implant them.”
Regenerative medicine offers the potential to improve the quality of life for many, but also to combat rising health care costs. Early estimates project that regenerative medicine therapies will result in direct health care cost savings in the United States of $250 billion per year for the chronic diseases of renal failure, heart failure, stroke, diabetes, burn and spinal cord injuries.
The world’s first laboratory-engineered organ, the bladder, was implanted in patients beginning in 1998. The surgery has helped patients in several ways, such as the new organs being able to hold urine, and avoiding the serious condition of kidney failure.
Skin and cartilage substitutes are available through regenerative medicine techniques, and laboratory-grown tracheas, blood vessels and other tissues have been implanted in patients. Because of the promise of regenerative medicine, the U.S. military has funded an $85 million effort to develop regenerative medicine treatments for wounded warriors. Advancements made through this project will also benefit the civilian population.
Today, regenerative medicine research is ongoing across the globe. As advances are made in the fields that comprise regenerative medicine — such as nanotechnology, pharmacology, genetics, biomaterials, cell biology and others — new possibilities open up for what can be accomplished.
For example, as demonstrated at TED, our institute is combining the latest technologies in biomaterials, printer technology and computer aided design in a project to “print” replacement tissues and organs. The idea is to use patient data, such as from a CT scan, to first create a computer model of the organ to be printed. This model is used to guide the printer as it layer-by-layer prints a three-dimensional structure made up of cells and the biomaterials to hold the cells together.