Have you ever wished you could wave a magic wand and heal a wound in a matter of seconds or dreamt of replacing an injured limb with a brand new version? You may feel like this kind of scientific sorcery is reminiscent only of a sci-fi movie script, but it could actually represent a glimpse into our future thanks to regenerative medicine.
What exactly is regenerative medicine?
Did you ever spot a tail-less lizard on holiday when you were younger and wonder how on earth it managed to soldier on unscathed when its tail had just dropped off? If you were to lose an arm or a leg unexpectedly, you definitely wouldn’t be able to scuttle away and go about your daily business. The wound would eventually heal but the human body doesn’t have the ability to regenerate tissue, and your arm or leg would never grow back, no matter how much time you allowed. You may notice that the skin has the ability to regenerate to a certain degree following an accident, but it will never be as sophisticated or complex as the original skin. That replacement patch, as this article explains http://humanparagon.com/regenerative-medicine/, lacks the detail and substance of other skin cells. This, unfortunately, is currently the limit of human regeneration, but this may not always be the case.
The lizard is incredible, not just because it can continue life in the same way as it did before it lost its tail, but also because it is capable of growing a new tail. Within weeks, if you were to spot the same lizard again, you would notice it had a shiny new tail.
What does the future hold?
There’s no miracle cure for illnesses or injuries that would benefit from regenerative medicine and scientists aren’t promising that we’ll be able to grow back lost limbs or recover from horrific injuries or illnesses in the next five years. Regenerative medicine is an area of medicine that is developing and evolving, as this page explains https://report.nih.gov/NIHfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=62, but there’s no quick fix on the horizon. Scientists are using information obtained from animals like lizards and salamanders to look at potential treatments and interventions that could enable humans to benefit from regenerative approaches in the future, but it’s important to understand that different species work in unique ways. The DNA of a salamander is much more complex than that of a human, and we don’t have the ability to regrow tissue in the same way. There are various options that are currently being investigated, including the use of medication, genetic switching, which combines human and animal genes, and cloning. The truth is that there’s no certainty that doctors will ever be able to prescribe treatments that improve the body’s regenerative capabilities, but the future looks bright.
If you’re not already familiar with the concept of regenerative medicine, you may find that it’s a subject that appears increasingly frequently in the newspapers in years to come.