What has been the staple of the U.S. economy since the start of the industrial age? Manufacturing. That is why so many economists fret over the fact that we have lost a considerable amount of manufacturing since the turn of the century. Could that also be the reason behind introducing the concept of manufacturing to the arena of regenerative medicine?
The concepts of manufacturing and medicine are rarely discussed together. This, despite the fact that the pharmaceutical industry relies heavily on manufacturing principles to do what it does. The same goes for medical equipment, supplies, and all the little things it takes to run a hospital or clinic. Manufacturing is part of medicine whether people recognize it or not. So bringing manufacturing principles to regenerative medicine is completely logical.
The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine obviously sees the potential of manufacturing in regenerative medicine, as evidenced by a recent announcement that they and one of their nonprofit foundations will be investing $20 million in a five-year project intended to bring advanced manufacturing to regenerative medicine research.
Creating Replacement Tissue and Organs
Clinicians already involved in regenerative medicine use platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and stem cell therapies to treat patients suffering from things such as chronic pain and orthopedic injuries. Those doctors learn the procedures through training companies like Utah-based Apex Biologix. While this area of regenerative medicine is very promising, there is a lot more to be done here.
The basic concept of regenerative medicine is to devise therapies that enable the body to self-heal to its fullest potential. PRP therapy introduces concentrated platelets and their many growth factors into a site of injury in order to promote natural healing. Stem cell therapy is similar, except that it uses concentrated stem cells to both boost healing and provide the raw materials for doing so.
Introducing manufacturing principles to regenerative medicine is quite different. It involves creating replacement tissues and organs on a large scale. Instead of relying on individual procedures in which patients provide their own stem cell material for injections, the goal is to be able to mass produce replacement tissues and organs.
One way of doing so is using the biomedical equivalent of a 3D printer to apply living stem cells to biodegradable structures that would then encourage them to grow into targeted types of tissue. If the science can be mastered, it is conceivable that tissue growth could eventually be automated.
Plenty of Barriers to Overcome
The $20 million being infused into regenerative medicine research by Wake Forced is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There are a lot of barriers to overcome, and doing so is going to require considerably more investment. Already we have seen hundreds of millions of dollars pumped into the same kinds of things the Wake Forced project will be working on. The reality is that accomplishing the goals of regenerative medicine are going to take time and money.
One of the biggest barriers is that of creating replacement tissue and organs using source material with a minimal risk of rejection. Since stem cell samples have such a relatively short shelf life, this goal will require a means of coming up with ‘generic’ stem cells that can be used for any tissue or organ the market demands. So far, this has proven elusive.
Despite the barriers now in place, thought leaders in regenerative medicine are confident that all will be overcome in time. They are fully confident that at some point, we will be manufacturing replacement tissues and organs in the same way pharmaceuticals and medical supplies are manufactured.