According to the Organ Donors Association, over 617,000 transplants have occurred in the U.S. since 1988. Donation areas include the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, pancreas and small intestines. Tissues include corneas, skin, veins, heart valves, tendons, ligaments and bones. More than 123,000 people in the United States are currently on the waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant.
Another name is added to the national transplant waiting list every 12 minutes. On average, 21 people die every day from the lack of available organs for transplant. More than 6,500 people die each year before they are able to receive a transplant.
But imagine if no one had to die or live a compromised life for lack of available tissue? That is just one of the promises of Regenerative Medicine.
Regenerative Medicine creates “living, functional tissues to repair or replace tissue or organ function lost due to age, disease, damage, or congenital defects.” This can be done by helping a patient regrow their own tissue, by growing tissue in a lab, or by modifying animal tissues so they can be integrated and remodeled into a patient’s own tissue.
A subset of Regenerative Medicine is a field known as Tissue Engineering. This is the process of using scaffolds, molecules, cells – and to build a new tissue from biomaterials. The FDA has approved engineered skin and cartilage for use in humans.
Whether we heal ourselves with the assistance of external agents, regrow tissue in our bodies or the lab, or engineer new tissues, regenerative medicine is already saving and improving lives. If the field advances and fulfills it’s potential, many currently incurable conditions will be fully healed.