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Regenerative medicine

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What a weekend!  I have just got back from the BPSA conference and the focus of today was ‘Science into practice’.  Something that I am really interested in, as you can probably tell from my other blogs!


One of the talks that really sparked my imagination was one covering the topic of regenerative medicine and looking at cell lines as drugs, rather than the conventional pharmaceuticals.


The idea starts, as always, with a problem or gap in the market for this new idea to slot into.  With an aging population and people living longer than in previous centuries, even decades, the ‘wearing out’ of organs and organ systems is becoming an increasing problem.  An example of this is a post MI patient.  A serious heart attack commonly causes areas of damage and cell death due to an interruption in blood flow.  Cardiac muscle is not able to be regenerated in the body, once it is damaged, it will never grow back to correct that cell death as, say, skin would.  This damaged area is therefore irreversible and commonly causes loss of function with the degree of dysfunction depending on the area of damage.


Traditional drug therapies try to allow the patient to live with the impairment in function, treating the symptoms of the problem and all the problems associated with polypharmacy.  Regenerative medicine aims to regain previous function and allow the patient to lead a normal life.


Stem cells have the ability to form any given cell type and can therefore form any tissue.  Our DNA has the necessary genes, coding for stem cells to be activated and the amount of each tissue we may need at a given time.  It has been proposed that over time, our body loses the ability to listen to our DNA and switches off the signal that allows some tissue types to be regenerated, namely brain tissue, nerves and cardiac tissue.  This therefore poses the idea of modifying our genetics to tune back into these codes.  It also leads on to the idea of using whole cells as drugs, culturing up a cell subtype and implanting it back into the patient.  It may even be possible to take a sample from a patient, be it skin, saliva, buccal swab etc, and revert the cells back into stem cells.  These would then be appropriately treated in order to culture the correct tissue type and implant it back into the site of injury.  It has the huge benefit of not setting off an immune response because it is the host’s tissue.  Stroke patients would be able to regain lost brain function, type 1 diabetics would be able to regain Islet cell function, post MI patients would reduce the chance of chronic arrhythmia if the specific area of the heart could be regenerated – the opportunities are countless.


This is the next logical step of developing pharmaceuticals.  The cells being delivered are the medicine: the manufacture, rational prescribing and personalised approach that we take for any other pharmaceutical product still apply here. Key drug molecule could be the key that allows embryonic cells to differentiate into specialised cells.  Hundereds of drugs could be screened to analyse which cells would form, for example, cardiomyocytes.  Now it sounds like pharmacy, right!?


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