Regenerative medicine is the field of biomedicine with the fastest pace of development. With new approaches in the therapy of so far incurable diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, autoimmune diseases and coronary heart disease, in addition to the cultivation of new tissue and artificial organs, regenerative medicine is going to lead to extraordinary changes in medical practice in the near future.
Physicians, natural scientists and engineers are all working closely together in this promising field to better understand the processes and functions of cells, tissue and organs, and to develop new therapeutic procedures based on this new knowledge. Thanks to the combination of basic research with clinical research and bio-technology developments, new forms of therapy are going to be possible that will enable tissue and organs that have been damaged through aging, disease, injury or genetic defects, to be regenerated or replaced. These will range from the stimulation of the body’s own regenerative processes through to biological replacement with cultivated tissue.
The principles of regenerative medicine have already been applied successfully for more than 40 years with stem cell transplantation to treat leukemia and lymphomas. However, the potential for regenerative medicine is significantly broader. Besides the transplantation of stem cells, regenerative medicine also encompasses endogenous regeneration. This is when cells, located within the body, are used to trigger self-regeneration processes. These can be stem cells, tissue-specific progenitor cells or immune cells. The main focus is the regeneration of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, nerves, liver and heart, as well as the targeted regeneration of the immune system.
“Tissue Engineering” is one area of regenerative medicine that is already a reality today, enabling the artificial growth of skin and cartilage tissue for transplants (e.g. replacement of a defective intervertebral disc). Regenerative medicine also encompasses gene therapy, which has the objective of repairing or even replacing defective genetic information.