Guest Column | October 27, 2020

The Future Of Regenerative Medicine: A Macro View On Emerging Applications

By Sophia Ononye-Onyia, PhD, MPH, MBA, Founder and CEO, The Sophia Consulting Firm

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Part three of a three-part series on the future of regenerative medicine explores how regenerative medicine will help to improve quality of life in line with continued rise in global average life expectancy.

Since 1900, the global average life expectancy has more than doubled and is now above 70 years. Consequently, many are looking at the field of regenerative medicine to facilitate the “process of replacing or "regenerating" human cells, tissues or organs to restore or establish normal function” as defined by the Advancing Transfusion and Cellular Therapies Worldwide. In other words, as we get older, we are in need of replacement parts due to the normal wear and tear that comes with age.

Part 1 of this “Future of Regenerative Medicine” series explored the transformative potential and challenges inherent in 3D bioprinting of human hearts whereas Part 2 similarly focused on lungs. Part 3 focuses on a broad view on the many applications of regenerative medicine.  Moreover, despite the clinical, psychosocial and economic burden of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, chronic diseases remain the major cause of global mortality and morbidity.

The WHO defines quality of life (QoL) as “an individual's perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns.” The connectivity between QoL and regenerative medicine is perhaps best exemplified by a recent Hebrew University’s Professor Oded Shoseyov who stated in a recent podcast: “regenerative medicine for the first time has the opportunity to really improve the quality of life.” Hence, there is a distinct need for continued evolution in regenerative medicine and other  emerging fields that can help improve the QoL for millions of people living with cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases.

Excitingly, the field of regenerative medicine continues to surge as evidenced by notable announcements by innovative companies such as United Therapeutics and CollPlant Biotechnologies who recently announced  an “exercise of option that will expand their collaboration to include 3D bioprinting of human kidneys for transplant.” Importantly, more than 90,000 people in the U.S. are awaiting a kidney donation. Furthermore, the importance of regenerative medicine as a sustainable source for vital organs and tissues is substantiated by the fact that about 17 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant.  Regenerative medicine encompasses cell therapies, tissue engineering, gene therapy and biomedical engineering techniques, as well as more traditional treatments involving pharmaceuticals, biologics and devices.

Recently, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and stem cell therapy have emerged as two of the major applications of regenerative medicine. PRP is a preparation of autologous plasma in which plasma is harvested from a patient’s own cells and subsequently enriched with a platelet concentration that is higher than the normal levels normally contained in whole blood. It is also important to highlight that PRP’s unique ability to supply a greater capacity of essential growth factors provides a regenerative boost that promotes tissue repair especially in musculoskeletal therapy and sports medicine. For example, Los Angeles-based Cedars-Sinai Hospital is leveraging PRP to enhance the body’s healing power to support healing of joint and cartilage, tendonitis and other soft tissue damages.  Most recently, the FDA has issued an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma to be used in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The agency is also encouraging convalescent plasma donation from patients who have already recovered from COVID-19 based on the current assumption that survivors’ plasma may contain antibodies against COVID-19. 

Furthermore, stem cell therapy is being explored for the management of a plethora of diseases inclusive of COVID-19, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease and leukemia. Stem cell therapy has also been shown potential for the management of coronary heart disease (CHD), which is also known as ischemic heart disease. CHD is characterized by reduced blood supply to the heart muscle and is the primary cause of death throughout the world, including most low-income and middle-income countries. The importance of stem cell therapy in the future of regenerative medicine is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that voters in the state of California would have an opportunity to decide on Proposition 14. If approved, this ballot initiative would authorize the state to sell $5.5 billion in general obligation bonds to the Stem Cell Research Institute Bond Initiative to enable funding for “stem cell studies, training scientists, and building new research facilities, with the aim of developing and testing treatments for a range of diseases.”

In conclusion, as we continue to live longer globally, the field of regenerative medicine may potentially serve as a “repair shop” that will provide the spare parts that we need for a better quality of life. Despite some skepticism about this emerging field of medicine, one can only hope that regenerative medicine will secure investment dollars and strategic support needed for its advancement. 

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Sophia Ononye-Onyia is a Yale-trained molecular oncologist and founder and CEO of The Sophia Consulting Firm, a New York life-sciences marketing and communications consultancy. She is also the host of her firm’s Amplifying Scientific Innovation Podcast.