Regenerative medicine is poised to dramatically alter conventional methods of treatment, shifting the focus away from symptoms and targeting the specific causes of different defects.
Within this field, adult stem cell research has already established itself as a concrete option for curing several diseases and researchers are excited by the possibilities opening up before them.
Professor Silviu Itsecu, founder and CEO of Mesoblast, a regenerative medicine company, expanded on the potential opportunities: “We’re developing products now based on the stem cells that could allow them to be delivered very simply by an intravenous injection, taking advantage of the properties that they will home (take back) to this specific damaged tissue that we’re trying to target.”
He gave a couple of examples: “An inflamed joint in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, these cells will find themselves going to the inflamed joint and selectively treating that joint. Otherwise, we’re looking at lung disease. So in certain inflammatory lung diseases the cells from simple intravenous injection will find their way straight to the inflamed lung and be able to do their thing (their job) locally, without actually getting to other healthy tissues where we don’t want them to go.”
And yet, whilst the prospect of cell replacement is increasingly acknowledged, its current limitations are also worth noting. Sir John Gurdon, the 2012 Nobel prize winner for Physiology or Medicine, has been one of those eager to stress this point;
“Where people need one kind of cell type, I think that’s a very good promise. It’s quite another thing to say ‘We will replace a whole heart or a whole brain’, that’s complicated, but to replace individual cell types seems very good prospects,” he told euronews.
One party keen on progress, is the Catholic Church, which controversially championed the new technology as an ethical alternative to embryo stem cells research.