Giulia Gigliobianco – PhD in Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine at University of Sheffield
Regenerative medicine, where soft tissues, organs or bone are extended or regrown is an increasingly exciting field. Examples of work being done include bone grafting or growing a patient’s own cells in the laboratory and then re-implanting them onto a wound bed to help it heal. Or how about regeneration of the trachea, the cornea, nervous tissue, the human finger, the liver, and even the male urethra?
While some regenerative treatments are already happening, others, such as lab-engineered liver cells, have the potential to change lives if they can be developed further.
And given that we will live longer than previous generations (and so will future generations after us) and that we deteriorate with age, regenerative medicine aimed at renewing ageing bodies could also be used to increase our quality of later life.
It all adds up
Regenerating soft tissue requires the use of materials such as biodegradable polymers that can be made into structures similar to the human tissue. This material acts as scaffolding for the cells to grow into and produce the matrix to heal the injured site. It is like rebuilding a house. The scaffolds (the materials) are put in place so the builders (our cells) can lay the bricks down and rebuild the house (our damaged tissues).
So the choice of the material, the manufacturing technique and how it is implanted are all very important to how successful regeneration of a particular tissue will be. However, the smarter the biomaterial is, the more expensive it will be. The high cost of these technologies comes from the expense of researching and developing the material and/or manufacturing and marketing costs – and companies who invest large amounts of money expect a reasonable return. The more the sophisticated the material, the more research goes into it and the more expensive it will be. Then the final step in this process is approval by regulatory bodies for their medical suitability.