• Alex Oprea

The Emerging Field of Regenerative Medicine

Organ transplants are the key to life or death for many -- over 1600 Canadians are added to organ transplant lists annually. Unfortunately, due to long waiting lists, unforeseen circumstances and a widespread lack of matches, for most, the clock runs out. Today’s generation may not have to face such issues, as new discoveries and technology have been creating what will soon be an alternative to the traditional procedure: creating new organs with the patient’s own stem cells, which will dramatically lower rejection rates and wait times. This relatively new idea is called regenerative medicine.

There have been many recent developments in the field. Regenerative science is the process in which doctors and engineers utilize a variety of means in order to grow organs such as skin, kidneys, bladders, even ears. This field has been on the radar of the media, but due to varying success rates many question if regenerative procedures will ever become FDA approved.

One success story, featured in Discover Magazine, is one of Dr. Anthony Atala. Atala, a pediatric urologist and surgeon, provided seven boys and girls with spina bifida (an illness where a child’s spine grows outside of its spinal column, often leaving them with bladder without proper function) with new bladders made of their own cells. Atala extracted healthy urothelial cells from the children, fed and grew these cells as they multiplied, created a frame for the bladder out of collagen, forming a balloon-like shape, and then coated the frame with the cells. He then surgically transplanted the bladders. The procedure was successful in all seven of the organ recipients.

In recent news, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has invested $20 million in Canada’s Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM), with specific means to research stem cell therapy. The federal support may lead to Canadian success in the field, a sequel to the first ever successful single and double lung transplants, which occurred in Canada. Researchers are optimistic towards the future of regenerative medicine. However, as many research projects are only in the prototype phase, the time needed to develop and replicate successful results will take years, possibly decades.