Healthcare Technology Featured Article

June 20, 2014

Potential for Regeneration to Remove Need for Organ Donors

According to the US Health and Human Services' Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN), there were 123,027  individuals in the waiting list to receive an organ as of 6:18am 6-20-2014, and an average of 20 people die every day waiting for a donor. This is just in the U.S., and the need is global as patients around the world also wait for donors. This is a problem that needs to be solved with another solution, because clearly there is a shortage of donors. A solution that is in the works, regenerative medicine, will solve this problem eventually, but there is no clear time-line as to when it will be available.  

A new report by Frost & Sullivan titled, "Can Regenerative Medicine be the Cure for Cancer and Other Deadly Diseases?" looks at how this technology can usher in a new era in healthcare. The report looks at curing conditions such as cancer and other deadly diseases, but regenerative medicine is also the process of creating living, functional tissues to repair or replace tissue or organ function lost due to age, disease, damage, or congenital defects (National Institutes of Health (NIH).

While regenerating damaged tissues and organs in the body by stimulating previously irreparable organs to heal themselves is a new way to address many medical conditions, growing these organs outside of the body is also another option. This can solve the shortage of organs available to patients around the world who are in desperate need for a transplant.

What we do know for a fact is patients can survive with organs other than their own—we’ve seen the successful transplantation of bone, soft tissue, corneas, kidney pancreas/kidney, liver, isolated pancreas, heart, heart-lung, single lung, double lung, living-donor liver, and living-donor lung.

Today tissue-engineered skin has been applied for skin replacement, temporary wound cover for burns, and treatment for diabetic leg and foot ulcers. Additionally tissue-engineered bladder, from a patient’s own cells can be grown outside the body and successfully transplanted. Other engineered products are also being used to prompt bone and connective tissue growth, bone regeneration, knee cartilage and vascular grafts. Research is also taking place to create functional tissues and organs with stem cells from embryos, gestational and adult tissues, and reprogrammed differentiated cells.

What is in store for tomorrow is truly inspiring, because organ shortage will be relegated to the past in the annals of medicine just like leeching. The NIH sees a future in where regenerative medicine with new therapies will offer complete recoveries with fewer side effects or risk of complication, if any. This includes:

  • Regenerating Insulin-producing pancreatic islets in the body or grown in the laboratory and implanted, potentially curing diabetes
  • Heart damaged by attack or disease could be repaired with tissue-engineered heart muscle
  • Made to order organs can be printed with tissue matrix material or cells creating organs of almost any configuration
  • Stimulate worn-out body part by removing all the cells from an organ and replacing it with new cells to restore full functionality

The future does indeed look bright regarding this branch of medicine the hope is it gets here as soon as possible, so the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network won't have to keep a record of how many people need a transplant.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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