Regenerative Breakthroughs: Tomorrow's Medicine Today

Brian Hicks

Updated July 20, 2011

For an Eritrean cancer patient named Andemarian Telesenbet Beyene, the future of medicine couldn’t come soon enough.

Stricken with an advanced form of tracheal cancer, this 36-year-old father of two was running out of options. With little time left on the clock and no suitable donor anywhere in the cards, Beyene’s doctors decided to make medical history instead…

When the tumor reached about six centimeters in length — almost completely blocking the patient’s windpipe — Beyene’s doctors moved on their final option. Working from scratch, they built him a new one.

The whole process took less a week. On June 9, Beyene’s life was saved using a new organ modeled on the one that needed to be replaced.

For the ground-breaking field of regenerative medicine, it was nothing short of a landmark procedure.

“He was condemned to die,” said Beyene’s surgeon, Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, who performed the procedure at Sweden’s Karolinska University Hospital.

“We now plan to discharge him on Friday.”

The Miracle Cure

That was two weeks ago. Today Beyene is cancer-free — those magic words every patient longs to hear.

What’s more, since the organ was created using his own stem cells, there has been none of the tissue rejection that often comes with donated organs.

“It’s working like a normal windpipe,” Dr. Macchiarini says.

“He’s able to cough. He’s able to expel his secretions. He’s breathing normally. He has the sensation he’s breathing.”

In this case, a team led by Alexander Seifalian of University College London used plastic polymers and nanotechnology to build a scaffold of Beyene’s trachea in the lab.  

The lab-produced scaffold was then bathed in a solution containing the patient’s own stem cells in a bioreactor produced by Harvard Bioscience (NASDAQ: HBIO).

According to David Green, president of Harvard Bioscience, the cells began to grow on the spongy new form within two days under sterile conditions. The stem cells — bathed with three different growth factors and protective chemicals at the time of surgery grew into a thin sheet of cells on the inside of the scaffold “surprisingly quickly,” Green says.

From there, the stem cells essentially took over, creating a transplant that was indistinguishable from a normal, healthy trachea.

Forty-eight hours after the long surgical procedure, all signs pointed to a successful conclusion. The manufactured organ functioned flawlessly.

“It’s yet another demonstration that what was once considered hype is becoming a life-changing moment for patients,” said Alan Russell, director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Pittsburgh.

One of these patients is a nine-month-old girl who was born without a trachea. According to Greene, she is next in line to receive a similar procedure.

Each year, 1,800 people worldwide are diagnosed with tracheal cancer. Without a suitable donor, these patients can typically expect a life span of only around six months.

This new frontier in medicine gives these patients newfound hope that their condition may be soon be cured, not simply treated. And this hope is further extended to the 4,000 patients added each day to U.S. organ donor waiting list. 

New Frontiers

Regenerative medicine is a relatively new field that brings together experts in biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, genetics, medicine and robotics, among others, to find solutions to some of the most challenging problems faced by the medical community.

Its essence is much simpler: to harness the body’s natural healing processes and activate these processes when and where they’re critically needed.

“The reason this technology works is that it’s not really surgery,” explains Dr. Anthony Atala, one of the field’s most renowned researchers. According to Atala, doctors using these techniques are essentially “just priming the pump” by putting the appropriate cells into the appropriate place, and asking the body to do the rest.

I’ve reported before on the reasons these methods have allowed Dr. Atala and his team to make history of their own. Between 2004 and 2007, Atala successfully reconstructed urethras in five young patients using the patients’ own cells.

With their made-to-order implants now in place for more than five years, Atala reports, “These children are now totally normal… They’re running around and doing the things they usually do.”

The Investor’s Edge

While the success of regenerative medicine cannot be denied, this portion of the biotech sector is still practically brand-new.

But that “investor’s edge” isn’t likely to last long, according to Life Science Intelligence. The firm projects the global market for tissue-regenerative products could be worth more than $118 billion in just three years. By comparison, today’s market stands at roughly $1.8 million.

Now try, if you can, to imagine how much money is going to be made in this arena over the next three years and beyond as these successes take hold in the market…

It could be life-changing in its own right.

Companies are creating living, functional tissue to repair or replace organ function lost to age, disease, or congenital defects. To call what they do “revolutionary” doesn’t do it justice…

It is nothing less than science fiction brought to life.

You don’t need to be Andemarian Telesenbet Beyene to know the future of medicine has arrived. 

Your bargain-hunting analyst,

 steve sig

Steve Christ
Editor, Wealth Daily

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