Feature Regenerative medicine

Regeneration games

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a1321 (Published 03 December 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1321
  1. Geoff Watts, freelance journalist
  1. 1London
  1. geoff{at}scileg.freeserve.co.uk

    Surgeons in Spain have recently transplanted a bioengineered human airway. But there’s often much hype surrounding regenerative medicine. Geoff Watts investigates

    With a clutch of new university departments, a growing number of small biotechnology companies, a dedicated journal and regular outbursts of press hoopla, regenerative medicine is on a roll. From diabetes to Parkinson’s disease, from ailing hearts to failing knees, enthusiasts foresee new remedies for many of the common failures of flesh and bone.

    The ambition of regenerative medicine—the reversal of age related, disease induced, and other bodily impairments—is hardly new. Varieties of “live cell therapy” dating back to the 1930s once lured the rich and famous to exclusive Swiss clinics to pay for expensive injections of heaven knows what. Such optimistic, if not foolhardy, leaps in the dark are a world away from current hopes and claims: the product of hard won insights into the biology of stem cells, and the genetic basis of their unique properties. And then there was the recent transplant of a bioengineered bronchus by a Spanish team of surgeons working with a European team of scientists (BMJ 2008;337:a2676, doi:10.1136/bmj.a2676).

    Defining regenerative medicine

    Precise definitions of this or that branch of medicine are seldom useful and even less often interesting. But an attempt by Chris Mason, a senior lecturer in biochemical engineering, and Pete Dunnill, a professor of biochemical engineering at University College, London to define regenerative medicine1 is illuminating about its roots and its nature. In reaching their own succinct definition (“Regenerative medicine replaces or regenerates human cells, tissues or organs to restore or establish normal function”) they emphasise that the field has grown out of several pre-existing technologies: surgery and surgical implants such as artificial hips; procedures such as bone marrow transplantation; and the use of biomaterials as scaffolds on which cells …

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