You may have heard about regenerative tissue therapy in the news, and perhaps wondered what they are, how they are being used to treat disease and injuries, and why they are the subject of such vigorous debate. Well, here are the answers to some of the most common queries.
Why is there such an Interest?
Doctors and researchers hope that regenerative tissue studies can help increase our understanding of how diseases develop and how we can generate healthy cells to replace diseased cells. People who can benefit from this therapy include people with cancer, type I diabetes, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, osteoarthritis and burns.
What are Regenerative Tissues?
These are the body’s raw materials. Also called Stem cells, they are cells from which every other cell with specialized functions is generated. Under the right conditions in the body or at a laboratory, these cells divide to form more cells known as daughter cells. The daughter cells either become new cells (self-renewal) or specialized cells with a more specific function, like brain cells, blood cells, heart muscle or bone cells.
What is Regenerative Tissue Therapy and How Does it Work?
Regenerative tissue therapy promotes the reparative response of diseased, injured or dysfunctional tissues using stem cells or their derivatives. It’s the next chapter of organ transplantation and makes use of cells instead of donor organs.
Researchers grow stem cells in a laboratory. They are manipulated to specialize into specific kinds of cells, like heart muscle cells, nerve cells, or blood cells. These specialized cells can then be implanted into a patient. For example, if someone has heart disease, the cells can be injected into the heart muscle. The transplanted cells then contribute to repairing the defective heart muscle.
Why is there such a Controversy about Using Embryonic Regenerative Tissues?
Embryonic regenerative tissues are obtained from early-stage embryos, a group of cells which form when a woman’s egg is fertilized with sperm in an in-vitro fertilization clinic. Since human embryonic tissues are extracted from human embryos, many questions and issues have been raised about the ethics of regenerative tissue research.
The National Institutes of Health has created guidelines for human regenerative tissue research. Guidelines included defining embryonic tissues and how they can be used in research and donation guidelines for embryonic tissues. The guidelines also stated that embryonic cells may only be used from embryos that are created by in vitro fertilization when an embryo is no longer required.
Where do the Embryos Come From?
Embryos being utilized in the research are taken from eggs that were fertilized in an in-vitro fertilization clinic, but were never implanted in a woman’s uterus. These cells are donated with the informed consent of the donors. The tissues can live and grow in special solutions in petri dishes or test tubes in laboratories.
What are the Possible Complications of using Embryonic Regenerative Tissues in Humans?
In order to be useful for treatment in people, researchers need to be sure that the tissues will differentiate into the specific, desired cell types. Researchers have found ways to direct tissues to become specific types of cells, e.g. directing embryonic regenerative tissues to become heart cells. There is ongoing research in this area.
Embryonic tissues can grow irregularly or specialize into different cell types spontaneously. Researchers are studying ways to control the growth as well as differentiation of embryonic tissues. These cells might trigger an immune response wherein the recipient’s body attacks the tissues as foreign invaders, or fail to function normally, with unknown consequences. There is ongoing research, to study how to avoid such possible complications.