Regenerative Medicine: Helping the Body Heal Itself
Medicine and science are seeing a promising new addition to their field where cells, tissues, and organs that had once been damaged are undergoing regeneration and repair, making them functional once more.
With regenerative medicine, the damaged parts of the body are replaced or even stimulated to repair themselves, offering a reprieve from the symptoms associated with the damage.
What Is Regenerative Medicine?
Regenerative medicine combines the principles of engineering and biology to create therapies for conditions that cause tissue loss, cell depletion, or damaged organs.
Regenerative medicine aims to replace tissues or organs that have become damaged due to trauma, disease, or a congenital issue. By replacing, or “regenerating,” these cells, tissues, or organs, normal function can be restored or established.
Some of the technologies used in regenerative medicine include 3D organ printing, tissue engineering, and organoids.
The appeal of regenerative medicine lies in its ability to treat chronic conditions that had previously been a cause of consistent suffering. For example, health conditions such as heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s are, in some cases, treatable, but in many cases are something whose progress can only be slowed.
However, regenerative medicine may be able to address the root cause of a disease (instead of its symptoms), effectively treating it and preventing it from recurring.
While regenerative medicine is beneficial for any situation that results from cell depletion or damage, it is especially beneficial for chronic diseases. This is because many chronic diseases initially result from cell depletion. For example, heart disease is often characterized by a loss of healthy heart muscle, while Alzheimer’s disease is associated with the loss of brain cells.
Stem Cells: A Key Component of Regenerative Medicine
One of the most powerful tools utilized in regenerative medicine are stem cells, which act as a blank slate that can become any type of cell in the body. For example, the cells that make up the heart differ from those that make up the pancreas.
However, stem cells are unique because they have not yet become these specialized cells, so their possibilities are endless.
This makes stem cells especially appealing when conducting research in the field of regenerative medicine because scientists can test stem-cell-based therapies that regenerate lost tissue.
While the use of stem cells is still relatively new, some regenerative medicine methods, such as Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy, induce stem cells already in the body, still making use of these powerful cells.
Mechanisms of Regenerative Medicine
There are three main concentrations within regenerative medicine:
This therapy revolves around stem cells and their ability to differentiate into different cells based on where they are injected.
The body already uses stem cells when repairing itself, so by injecting the stem cells into the damaged area or inducing stem cells to travel to a certain area of the body, regenerative medicine makes use of the body’s natural mechanisms.
Stem cells can be collected from fat, bone, dental pulp, bone marrow, cord blood, skeletal muscles, and other sources.
Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering
This concentration involves the creation and implantation of biologically compatible scaffolds. The scaffold acts as a support system that cells can grow around, and it helps to create new tissue at a specific site.
While there have been millions of patients treated with tissue-engineered devices, the field as a whole is still only in its beginning stages, and there is still much to come as it continues to grow and expand.
Currently, most of the success has been around soft tissue regeneration, such as cartilage, skin, tendon, and ligament.
Medical Devices and Artificial Organs
When an organ fails, the typical method of addressing this is through a transplant from an organ donor. However, there are many challenges associated with this, with the primary one being that there is a limit on the number of organs available for transplantation. In many cases, the need for organs is greater than the amount available, which results in many patients being unable to get the organs they need.
Additionally, when donating an organ, the donor must take immunosuppression drugs, which can have some side effects.
To combat these challenges, regenerative medicine has created many medical devices that supplement or replace the function of a failing organ or organ system, such as the lungs, heart, kidney, or liver.
Regenerative Medicine Applications
Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy
One area of regenerative medicine is platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy. This treatment method collects platelet-rich plasma from the patient and then injects it back into the target area.
To create PRP, the doctor collects a blood sample and then spins it in a centrifuge. Doing this separates the platelet-rich plasma from the other components of blood. The doctor then injects the platelet-rich plasma back into the body at the target locations.
Platelets are a component of the immune system and possess powerful healing properties. When injected into an area with damage, they target the body’s healing abilities to the specific site by drawing blood to the area. Specifically, platelets release growth factors when injected, which then stimulates growth and repair and activates the local stem cells.
Because of this, PRP therapy makes use of the stem cells already in the body, and simply directs them to a location in need of regeneration and repair.
Some uses for PRP therapy include erectile dysfunction, vaginal atrophy, and hair loss. PRP therapy can also be used on the face to restore youthfulness and address changes in skin that occur with aging.
Two types of PRP therapy are the V-shot and P-shot, which are administered to the vagina and penis, respectively. When injected into the damaged tissue of the sex organs, stem cells are stimulated to form new sensory cells and blood vessels. This then helps to improve function and increase sensitivity.
One of the newer emergencies in the field of regenerative medicine is the use of cord blood stem cells for many different functions of the body.
One area of study involves seeing if cord blood stem cells can slow insulin production loss in children with type 1 diabetes. With type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the pancreatic ß-cells and keeps them from functioning. However, stem cells have been shown to preserve their function and modify immune tolerance, two roles that show potential in treating type 1 diabetes.
Cord blood stem cells have also been studied in the field of cardiology in regard to their ability to improve function and blood flow at injured sites in the cardiovascular system. Since cardiovascular problems can also cause erectile dysfunction, cord blood stem cells may be a future method of erectile dysfunction treatment.
The application of stem cells to the nervous system has also been observed, something which is important due to the slow, and often nonexistent, regeneration rate of nerve cells. Studies have shown that stem cells can migrate to injured areas of the brain to repair the damaged tissue and alleviate any symptoms associated with mobility.
One of the primary appeals of using cord blood stem cells is that the patient’s own stem cells are utilized, which means there is less risk of the body’s immune system rejecting the cells.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
For men and women with low sex hormone levels, hormone replacement therapy offers a way to naturally increase these levels and relieve the symptoms associated with low hormone production.
One common application of this is for menopausal women, where estrogen hormone therapy addresses the symptoms that can occur with low estrogen levels. In fact, hormone therapy is the most efficient treatment for the symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness, which occur, in part, when the vaginal tissue experiences cell loss and becomes thin and dry due to declining estrogen levels.
For men with low testosterone, erectile dysfunction and other sexual problems can occur, but hormone therapy offers a way to replenish testosterone levels and restore sexual function.
Hormones play a significant role in many body functions, so by supplementing low-hormone levels, you can address these deficiencies and help the body function more optimally.
Harnessing The Body’s Healing Abilities
Regenerative medicine offers an exciting new field of medicine, focusing on ways to stimulate the body’s own immune system and restore function that had been damaged. This provides a treatment method for many conditions which had previously been incurable.
While some areas of regenerative medicine, including stem cells, are still undergoing research regarding their capabilities, others have already shown immense improvement for those who use them.
Platelet-rich plasma and hormone replacement therapy are two forms of regenerative medicine that use the body’s own healing capabilities to address problem areas. Through these forms of regenerative medicine, the body can begin working as it should again, restoring balance and increasing function.
With regenerative medicine still having much to explore, it will be exciting to see where the advances continue to go and what condition regenerative medicine may be able to address next.
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About Dr. Mel Irvine
Dr. Mel Irvine, DNP and Clinical Sexologist specializes in sexual medicine and beauty in Fort Myers Florida. She earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice at Florida Gulf Coast University and her master’s degree at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In 2018, she completed a preceptorship at San Diego Sexual Medicine with Dr. Irwin Goldstein and obtained her clinical sexologist certification from STII with Dr. Carol Clark. She is passionate about working with singles and couples to learn and explore their sexuality and sexual health needs through providing a comfortable and nonjudgmental atmosphere. As a provider she offers a balanced and holistic approach that encompasses a multimodal care delivery model.