Regenerative Medicine: What’s New in this Emerging Field for 2021

Orthopaedic & Spine Center


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Mark W. McFarland, DO

In addition to my busy practice as an Orthopaedic Spine specialist, I also offer Regenerative Medicine services as a treatment to my patients when appropriate.  Regenerative Medicine uses the body’s own healing properties, such as stem cells or platelet rich plasma (PRP), to encourage regrowth and healing of mild to moderate injury and disease of the musculoskeletal system.  While Regenerative Medicine is truly a field in its infancy, research and development continue at a rapid pace to prove AND disprove its efficacy as a medical treatment for a wide range of human disease and injury states.  In this article, I’d like to bring you up to speed on some of the most exciting developments in the field of Regenerative Medicine.

This year, the esteemed Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, will begin offering a doctoral level degree in the field of Regenerative Medicine.  Five students have been selected for the first class of students, who will graduate from the Mayo Clinic School of Biomedical Sciences with a PhD in Regenerative Medicine Sciences in the year 2026. 

Although the goal of growing full-size, totally functioning human organs viable for transplant is still beyond our reach, tiny micro-organs are now being printed in labs at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.  Why?  To greatly speed along the process of testing out new drugs on the human body and measuring efficacy or toxicity of them during illness on organs.  The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine is 3D printing these tiny organs, called organoids, that live invitro, only weeks or months, specifically to replicate the functions of the human heart, brain, liver, kidneys and more.  The scientists can cause these tiny organoids to suffer strokes, heart attacks, etc., and see how the drugs work or don’t work to help alleviate symptoms.  Remarkable!

Medical technology in the operating room, commonly seen in theatres during the movies may be much closer than you think.  Scientists at Northwestern University have discovered a new, printable biomaterial that closely resembles brain tissue, upon which they hope to embed neuron stem cells.  Using a 3D printer and the phenomenon of molecular reshuffling superstructures, these researchers hope to encourage neuron growth in the brain and in the spinal cord.  This could have enormous ramifications for those with neurologic illness (Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, for example) and injury to the brain, spinal cord, or other parts of the nervous system.  In the future, all operating rooms might have 3D printers in them as standard operating equipment, to harness the power of stem cells and Regenerative Medicine.

As a Spine surgeon, I find this development very inspirational as I think of all of the persons with spinal cord injuries that could potentially be helped by the regeneration of neurons in the area of the spinal cord that is injured or diseased.  It is great to envision a future where paralysis may be only temporary after an accident and that the promise of Regenerative Medicine may one day bring healing to those who can’t walk.


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