This is just a taste of what is out there. A quick snippet of a few of the myriad trends that are coalescing toward a regenerative medicine movement that will transform the world. Hopefully they provide some useful insight into where we are headed and how we are getting there. I concocted this article recently as a writing sample for a job. We will see whether or not I get it but no reason not to let everyone else enjoy the efforts as well.
BioMedical Advances – The future of keeping you healthy.
By – Matthew Lehmitz
Imagine regrowing an entire limb or organ using nothing but a handful of your own existing cells. Consider the possibility of increasing muscle mass simply by injection.
We live in an age where machines and living things are ever more closely connected and where bioengineering is looking ever more like classical engineering.
In march 2020 more than 112,000 people in the United States alone were waiting for organ transplants. This far outstrips organ donations rates which for all of 2019 stood at 19,267.
What if we could cut that number to zero and reduce the wait time from years to months to days or even hours?
This and more is the promise of modern and future bioengineering technology. Let us explore more of what life might bring us and what we can bring to life.
The famous quote from the six million dollar man goes “We can rebuild him, we have the technology”. This has never been more true.
Not only can we now treat damage and slow the progression of time and illness but we have the capability to begin to rebuild and even improve the human body.
We can produce new organs or regrow limbs. We can make new skin or alter the very DNA sequences that underlie our basic functioning.
In the future we can end aging and make our bodies even more resistant to disease and damage preventing harm in the first place.
One of the most interesting areas at this time is a field called 3D bioprinting.
We’ve all heard or read about 3d printing and the amazing things it can produce in plastic. Whether you want a model of the USS Enterprise or a new steering wheel for your car it can save a lot of potential time and money.
This technology is expanding rapidly. By the year 2022 spending on 3D printers alone is expected to exceed 5.3 Billion USD annually.
So what if we converted the printer to create things not of plastic but of cells?
This is the question that is answered by the 3D bioprinting revolution.
Rather than rely on human donors for transplant organs we can simply turn on a machine primed with cells from the person needing a transplant and let it print away.
Of course not all organs are flat and so a biocompatible gel or soft material is used to form a scaffold on which to print.
These prints can be finished in a matter of days or even less with some bone printing systems able to complete their tasks in as little as two hours.
Rejection has long been a problem with transplants. Acute rejection, where the body rejects the new organ and attacks it as a foreign body, occurs in up to 30 percent of cases for liver and as high as 20 percent for kidney transplants.
A huge advantage of using organ printing is that it avoids the issue of rejection by using the patients’ own cells. Since they are already accepted by the patients’ immune system they are very unlikely to be targeted as foreign bodies.
Costs for medical procedures are quite high in the United States with Medicare spending exceeding 3.4 Billion annually for Kidney Transplants.
3D printing will bring these costs down significantly. Not only will it be cheaper and easier to find and safely transplant the organs but the technology is cheap as well.
Many quality 3D printers have fallen below the 300 USD price point. We can expect to see the 170,000 USD price point of professional bioprinters fall quickly as we have seen with its sibling technology.
How hard would it be to live without a finger? Without a hand? Even an entire arm? Life would certainly be very difficult.
Living with the loss of a limb is a challenge that faces more than 2.1 million Americans every day. Approximately 400 amputations are performed nationwide on an average day.
Most people currently use some kind of mechanical prosthesis to provide a limited replacement for the lost limb. This may soon be changing however, as regrowing limbs becomes more feasible.
There are many creatures in nature that regrow lost parts. It turns out that humans are not substantially different.
Studies have shown that babies can regenerate fingertips when they are young and prenatal humans can regrow entire limbs in the womb.
This fits with our own evolutionary history as we see a variety of reptiles do this as do some amphibians.
We can trace specific gene activation in mammals called lin28a. This specific gene was found by George Daley and his team at Harvard Medical to result in significant tissue regeneration in mice.
This only occurred however, when the gene was prevented from switching off and only when the mice were young.
So humans have this ability to regenerate and it can be found in other mammals. It is simply one of the many genes that gets switched off as we age.
What can we do to reactivate it or keep it from leaving us in the first place?
One amazing solution may be the development of a powder which can be rubbed onto damaged limbs which help them regrow. While the studies on this have been limited some individuals have seen healthier and more complete limb repair than was otherwise expected.
Stem cells seem like a strong approach. They already are pluripotent which means that these cells can be induced to grow into any cell that is needed. With the right inducement stem cells could be made to grow any organ or tissue in the body.
Future stem cell applications could enable the regrowth of an entire arm or leg.
No health concern is as serious or omnipresent as aging. It is the disease that every human is born with and which will eventually claim every person if nothing else does first.
The plague of aging has followed humanity throughout its entire existence but that is beginning to change.
Imagine a situation where humans live not just much longer lives but also much healthier ones where aging is a controlled condition or overcome entirely.
Many current research trends in gerontology, the study of aging, present a tantalizing perspective suggesting this isn’t just possible but that we can make great strides in this area.
Genetic modification has become ever more achievable. Since the development of CRISPr Cas-9 protocols the ability to accurately and reliably alter genomes has been greatly improved.
Genes are spectacular things that play such a key role in every facet of our lives that any ability to alter them can have amazing effects.
A few genes have already been identified as having strong connections with aging.
One of them called AAV9-TERT is a gene tied to the production of telomerase.
Telomerase is a chemical that is responsible for managing the length of telomeres. ‘Caps’ of a sort on the end of genetic sequences.
As we age our telomeres become shorter and can lead to genetic damage and decrease cellular functioning. Increasing the length and safety of these coverings can help reduce effective biological age.
This approach has been reported to improve the lifespan of mice by as much as thirty percent.
Work in the area of senolytics is very exciting. Senolytics is the study of ways we can remove senescent cells from the body.
Senescent cells are those that are working poorly or not at all. They take up resources and can be detrimental to nearby cells.
Senolytic therapies endeavor to remove these cells while leaving healthy tissue undamaged and free of their negative influence.
Adding senolytic approaches to gene therapies has seen lifespans of mice increased by as much as 36 percent.
Through constant effort and improvement of our experience and techniques we will continue to live longer and healthier lives.
We will grow and harvest new and healthy organs, edit our genes to better serve our needs, live long and healthy lives.
These will all have powerful impacts on society and one of the most significant adjustments that will have to be made across all sectors is how to deal with this.
The health care sector will see huge shifts and disruption in its market as demand for these new treatments increases while more traditional treatments and approaches fall away.
There is a massive business opportunity in this as a result and many new startups are moving into the anti-aging sector. They will be at the forefront of next phase developments and will not only profit from the changing markets but provide great profit to humankind.
Society will also see innovation racing ahead as we learn to deal with a whole new paradigm for generations, education, experience, sports and all other facets of human striving. It may be difficult but will ultimately see us become stronger as friends and as people for the effort.