Regenerative Medicine encompasses many fields of science and medicine. The image below effectively portrays the scope of Regenerative Medicine; as the umbrella, it covers many fields of research and clinical practice. Stem cell research and therapies continue to enhance the field of Regenerative Medicine and what it offers patients and scientists. Stem cells have and will continue to play a critical role in scientific discoveries through developmental biology and therapeutic applications, however, we should be mindful to not limit our descriptions or thoughts regarding Regenerative Medicine and it’s capabilities to stem cell research alone. The only constraints placed around it are the ones we set, as those in the field seek to uncover the intricacies of our biological systems.
Typically, when the term ‘Regenerative Medicine’ arises people automatically think about stem cells, particularly, embryonic stem cells. Being that embryonic stem cell research is currently a highly debated topic in both the scientific and political field, the assumption that Regenerative Medicine Research only involves embryonic stem cell research can be narrowing to the field and does not allow one to understand its full potential. While all stem cell work is vital to the advancement of Regenerative Medicine research and therapies, we cannot interchange the two terms as equals. As we learn more about Regenerative Medicine, we must broaden our minds, so as not to limit the vast possibilities that Regenerative Medicine researchers seek to find in the inherent mysteries of our biological systems.
How are stem cells and Regenerative Medicine linked?
As discussed in other portions of this site, Regenerative Medicine is a comprehensive term used to describe the current methods and research employed to revive and/or replace dead or damaged tissue. A portion of Regenerative Medicine research revolves around the use of stem cells, including embryonic, adult, and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), however there are many other resources that are utilized in order to carry out the mission of Regenerative Medicine research. These include transplants, biomaterials, scaffolds, machines and electronics, stimulation pathways, drug therapy, and many others. This is thoroughly discussed on the ‘What is Regenerative Medicine?’ page.
Stem cells have a very important role in Regenerative Medicine Research and have many potential applications. First, because of their role in development and their potential to develop into many different cells types, stem cells are vital to the field of developmental biology. Developmental biologists seek to uncover what genes and pathways are involved in cell differentiation (how cells develop into specific cell types such as liver, skin, or muscle cells) and how these can be manipulated to create new healthy tissues. Second, stem cells can be applied to drug testing and development. New drugs that are developed in Pharma could be safely and effectively tested using differentiated stem cells. As scientists learn more about how stem cells develop to form new tissue they will be able to apply their knowledge in maintaining differentiated cell types that can be used to test particular drugs. This method is already underway in the cancer therapy world, where cancer cells and grown in the laboratory for the purpose of testing anti-tumor and chemotherapeutic drugs. Finally, and of most interest to patients and scientists is the role stem cells will play in Cell-Based Therapy. These therapies will apply the understanding of stem cell development, differentiation, and maintenance to generate new, healthy tissue for diseases needing transplant or replacement of damaged tissue, such as arthritis, Parkinson's disease, type 1 diabetes, and coronary disease. Cell therapies may one day be able to replace organ donation and eliminate the issues that accompany it such as rejection and tissue insufficiency. Although there are still many difficulties surrounding the field of stem cell research and therapy, over the coming decades scientists hope to continue to make discoveries that will enable the potentials of cell-based therapy to become a reality.