What Is Regenerative Medicine?

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 01, 2021
3 min read

When you scrape your knee, break a bone, or cut yourself, the body is able to heal itself. But that’s not the case with certain conditions, like diabetes or heart disease.

Regenerative medicine, a fairly new field in which experts are looking for therapies and strategies similar to the mechanisms that help your body heal itself, is changing that.

Regenerative medicine first picked up steam in the 1990s when tissue engineering became popular for stem cell research and procedures like skin grafting.

The goal of regenerative medicine is to replace or reboot tissues or organs damaged because of disease, injury, age, or other issues instead of treating symptoms with medication and procedures.

Regeneration in humans happens at three levels:

Molecular. This includes small molecules that are the building blocks of your body, like DNA, fats, and carbohydrates.

Cellular. This includes cell structures like neurons or axons that are responsible for cell growth and reproduction in your body.

Tissue. This includes blood, skin, bone, or muscle.

While many forms of regenerative medicine research are still underway, some have already been put to use. One of them is stem cell therapy. This is when scientists grow specialized stem cells in a lab. Depending on the need, they can be instructed to behave like certain types of cells, such as those in your heart, blood, or nerves.

For example, if you have heart disease, these lab-made heart muscle cells may be used as transplanted tissue to help repair or replace damaged heart cells.

Several therapies and conditions including:

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular tissue repair
  • Brain injury tissue repair
  • Immune system improvement
  • Cell therapy
  • Tissue engineering
  • Skin wounds
  • Certain cancers
  • Organ transplants

Regenerative medicine continues to take shape with new discoveries and advancements, but there are a few major areas.

They include:

Tissue engineering and biomaterials. This is when biomaterials -- made from three-dimensional (3D) printing using things like metals, ceramics, and polymers called scaffolds -- are put in your body where new tissue needs to grow.

Many people have been treated with this method, but research is ongoing.

Cellular therapies. All of us have millions of adult stem cells. It’s one of the ways our body repairs itself. Studies have shown that if adult stem cells are grouped and injected in areas where there is disease or tissue damage, the stem cells can help reconstruct new tissue under certain conditions.

Adult stem cells can be taken from various parts of your body, such as:

  • Blood
  • Fat
  • Bone marrow
  • Dental pulp
  • Skeletal muscle
  • Cord blood (blood found in the umbilical cord and placenta after birth)

Scientists are conducting studies to learn more about cellular therapy for tissue and organ regeneration.

Medical devices and artificial organs. If your organ is too far gone to function and needs to be replaced, doctors usually recommend organ transplant. But it can be difficult to find organ donors who are the right match, and it often takes a lot of time. Time is of the essence when you’re in need of a new kidney or a lung.

In these cases, regenerative medicine has used engineering and robotics to come up with technologies and machines to support failing organs. For example, your doctor can put a ventricular assistive device (VAD) in the body to help with circulation issues during complex transplant processes.

A lot more research and clinical trials are needed for certain therapies before they can be approved for medical use.

If you or a loved one has an ongoing condition or disease and you’re wondering if regenerative medicine is an option for you, ask your doctor about it.