Sunday, January 30, 2011

Regenerative medicine: conduits, augments, and blood-vessel printing

A medical advance that could have as large an impact on disease eradication and life extension as penicillin is regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. The field was perceived as revolutionary even a few years ago, but rapid advances have made it seem almost commonplace today.

Replacement organs grown from one’s own cells are desirable since this would avoid immune system rejection and a lifetime of immunosuppressive drugs and their side effects.

Hollow organs like the bladder are easier to create than the more solid liver and kidney, and the heart is the most challenging. The current status is that several dozens of lab-generated bladders have been implanted in humans.

In the case of other organs, the present focus of tissue engineering is on conduits (e.g.; providing a link to the outside of the body for waste removal (Tengion neo-urinary conduit clinical trials)) and augments (e.g.; providing a supplemental path for normal operations (Tengion neo-kidney augment and other augments)).

Vascularization, or blood-vessel printing, is an intense area of research focus, and there is some promising progress from at least two sources, well-known regenerative medicine research leader Anthony Atala, and tissue engineering startup darling Organovo. This could be a key step in allowing more sophisticated organs to be regenerated.

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