About regenerative medicine

What is regenerative medicine?

The field of regenerative medicine covers the process of replacing, engineering or regenerating human cells, tissues or organs to restore or establish normal function. This can be done in a number of ways. The most widely known method is using stem cells. For example, scientists can use stem cells to regrow kidney tissue to avoid a kidney transplant.

Pharmaceuticals can also effect regeneration, for example to stimulate tooth repair.  Patient cells can also be genetically altered then reinfused back into the patient, for example to fight blood cancers like leukemia.

What are stem cells?

Stem cells are what our body relies on to grow and heal itself. In healthy people, stem cells are continually replacing dead cells when they become worn out, for example replacing skin damaged by a burn. The two characteristics that define a cell as a stem cell are:

  • the ability to divide and make exact copies of itself. This is called self-renewal.
  • the ability to turn into specialized cells as needed. This is called differentiation.

A cell that does not have both of these abilities is not a stem cell.

Are all stem cells the same?

No – different stem cells harvested from different places have slightly different characteristics. Here are some examples:

  • embryonic stem cells (often called ES cells or ESCs) are harvested when an embryo is at a very early stage called a blastocyst. The cells are harvested and then grown in a lab. These stem cells are controversial because the process of harvesting the stem cells destroys the embryo. However, the embryos used are usually produced as a result of the process of in vitro fertilization and are unsuitable to be implanted into a human. ESCs are pluripotent – they can turn into any kind of specialized cell.
  • adult stem cells (also called tissue cells or somatic cells) can be harvested from bone marrow and the blood. Blood from the umbilical cord is also often harvested and stored. They have the ability to turn into many kinds of cells, but not every kind of cell; they are multipotent, not pluripotent. However, there is a lot of research using adult stem cells because there are far fewer ethical problems than with ESCs.
  • induced pluripotent stem cells (called iPS cells or iPSCs) are differentiated cells, such as skin or fat cells, that have been harvested and reprogrammed in the lab to become stem cells. They can be grown and differentiated into any type of cell, as the name suggests. Although iPSCs have fewer ethical issues than ESCs, there are still some contentious points for researchers to consider.

More information about the ethics of stem cells can be found on our Ethics & Policy channel.

What diseases can regenerative medicine treat?

Regenerative medicine works best when a disease is caused by one type of cell becoming faulty. Diseases that have been treated or studied include neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, eye diseases such as macular degeneration, organ disorders like diabetes or liver failure, and joint and back disorders.

Is stem cell therapy FDA- or MHRA-approved?

Currently, the FDA has not approved any stem cell-based products for use, other than cord blood-derived hematopoietic progenitor cells (blood forming stem cells) for certain indications. In Europe, certain therapies are approved.

For detailed and current information about specific stem cell therapies or other regenerative medicines, speak to your healthcare professional. The information on RegMedNet is not intended to be a substitute for advice from a healthcare professional, nor should it be used for self-management of conditions.

Are there any drugs that are regenerative medicines?

There are many pharmaceuticals that encourage regeneration in our bodies and they all work in different ways. Some drugs are biologically or artificially derived growth factors that, when delivered to a specific target, encourage the growth of specific cells, such as in the field of sports injuries. Other drugs may promote the movement of stem cells from the bone marrow or blood to the injury site in order to heal the damage.

What clinical trials have taken place?

There are a large number of regenerative medicine and stem cell clinical trials that have taken place and are currently taking place. On RegMedNet, we often report on important findings, but we don’t track them all. You can read the latest clinical trials news on our Clinical Trials channel.

Alternately, contact your country’s respective health authority – for example, if you’re in the UK, you can find the NHS’s list here. For US visitors, the NIH’s list is here. If you’re interested in taking part in a clinical trial, speak to your healthcare professional.

About RegMedNet

Is RegMedNet free to join?

Yes – there is no cost to join RegMedNet and access all the content, included exclusive peer-reviewed journal content and educational webinars.

Who can post on RegMedNet?

Anyone who is a member can post on RegMedNet. To discuss your idea for a post, contact the Editor.

What can be posted on RegMedNet?

RegMedNet covers exclusively regenerative medicine and cell therapy research, news and clinical development. We don’t cover general medical news or general stem cell research – your post needs to relate to the translation of this research into therapies to improve human health. We also cover regulation and commercialization as well as public policy. If you’re still unsure whether your post is relevant, email the editor.

Does RegMedNet post sponsored content?

RegMedNet sometimes hosts a small number of sponsored posts. Posting sponsored content allows RegMedNet to provide relevant and timely information from leaders in the field and to operate free for its users. We hope you enjoy the sponsored posts.

Can RegMedNet help me get onto a clinical trial?

No – on RegMedNet, we often report on important findings but if you’re interested in taking part in a clinical trial, speak to your healthcare professional.

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