Regenerative Medicine Investing: A Look into the Future

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted June 29, 2010

Try, if you can, to imagine a world where replacement body parts can be grown in lab. 

What’s more, think about the possibilities that this type of technology could offer. To call such a thing “revolutionary” just wouldn’t do it justice. 

Evolutionary would be more like it — as in completely changing the way we think about disease, aging, and ultimately medicine itself.

Fortunately, such a day is much closer than you think…

No longer the stuff of science fiction novels, the human body may one day be more like that of salamander — actually capable of re-growing complex body parts.

That’s the ultimate promise behind the fast growing field of regenerative medicine, in which scientists are creating living, functional tissues to repair or replace tissue or organ function lost due to age, disease, or congenital defects.

It is a relatively new field that brings together experts in biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, genetics, medicine, robotics, and other fields to find solutions to some of the most challenging medical 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.

And while all of that sounds like so much magical thinking, the truth is that these regenerative miracles happen all the time in nature.

Regenerative Medicine: Proof of concept in biology

For instance, did you know that planarians (flat worms) can regenerate themselves entirely from just a single tiny body fragment?

Or that if you cut the arm of a starfish, you’ll end up with two of them?

And then there’s that salamander that helped to inspire the mind of Dr. Anthony Atala, the renowned regenerative medicine pioneer at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina.

Dr. Atala often pondered: “If a salamander can grow back its leg, why can’t a human do the same?”

Those ponderings led Dr. Atala, along with over 200 scientists at his Wake Forest lab, to their work to translate these regenerative miracles into clinical therapies that can benefit future patients.

In fact his team is currently working on re-growing over 23 different organs including the liver, heart, kidney, and bladder.

Along the way, Dr. Atala and his team have conquered a number of  milestones in the field.

From the website, these firsts include: 

  • Developed biological strategies to enable certain human cell types that were previously thought not to be expandable outside the body to be grown in large quantities;

  • The first demonstration that complex tissue structures could be engineered using cells;

  • Developed the first tissue-engineered product to go to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval for clinical applications, consisting of cells and biomaterials for injectable therapy;

  • First in the world to use native acellular biomaterials in patients for the regeneration of tissues;

  • Created the first full tissue-engineered organ. The institute is the only research facility in the world to have created a wholly laboratory-grown organ, engineered bladder tissue that has been successfully implanted in patients;

  • Identified and characterized a new class of non-controversial stem cells derived from amniotic fluid and placenta, which show promise for the treatment of many diseases… These stem cells have been proven to differentiate into many tissue types, including blood vessel, bone, liver, and muscle. A bank of 100,000 specimens could potentially provide 99% of the U.S. population with a genetic match for transplantation.

“The reason this technology works is that it’s not really surgery,” Dr. Atala explains.

They’re “just priming the pump” by putting the appropriate cells into the appropriate place and asking the body to do the rest.

Real world breakthroughs

That’s part of the premise behind one of the lab’s most interesting new technologies…

It’s an inkjet printer that can spray skin cells directly onto burn victims, as an alternative to skin grafts.

“We literally print the cells directly onto the wound,” said student Kyle Binder, who helped design the device.

Developed in part with the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine, the experimental device has the potential to help burn victims within and outside of the military.

Meanwhile, tests on mice have shown that the “bioprinter” heals wounds quickly and safely.

“We were able to close the entire wound in two weeks,” Binder said.  Conversely, mice that were not treated took five weeks to heal.

But that’s just part of what this consortium with the military is working on. In the future, scientists hope to engineer components such as ligaments, tendons, blood vessels and whole host of other “repairs” to help restore wounded warriors to full function.  In all, $250 million has gone into the effort.

For 25-year-old Marine Corporal Isaias Hernandez, the newest frontier of medicine has already arrived.

Badly wounded in an Iraqi mortar attack, Hernandez was fortunate enough to undergo a new type of treatment developed by the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

After receiving a crater-like wound in his thigh that reached all the way to the bone, Hernandez was one of the lucky few to participate in a trial of a miracle powder that helps the body grow new tissue.

And while earlier doctors were contemplating an amputation, the miracle powder delivered results that have been nothing less than spectacular.

Not only has Hernandez’s muscle grown back, but the nerves and the skin have, too — prompting American soldiers to call it “pixie dust.”

In reality, Hernandez received treatment of an extracellular matrix, or ECM. It’s a naturally-made cell scaffold that recruits stem cells to injury sites to re-grow normal tissue rather than scars.

But while regenerative medicine is obviously very real, it is still in its infancy.

In fact the market for technologies that repair the body now stands at just $1.8 billion.

But that promises to change in hurry, 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.

Needless to say, that leaves the sector primed for a bull market run for the ages. Even at half of those levels, that means the sector is going to grow to the tune of 2850% by 2013.

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…

Because let’s face it, this is a future that is going to make early investors a small fortune.

Thanks to the work of Dr. Atala and numerous others, the biotech bull market continues.

And if you are interested in seeing for yourself how radical this new medical field is, check out this video from 60 Minutes.

It is simply amazing.

Your bargain-hunting analyst,

 steve sig

Steve Christ
Editor, Wealth Daily

P.S. The biotech bull market is a story that we’ve been following for nearly two years now. In fact our research has led us to a radical biotech stock that could be one of the sector’s biggest winners… To learn more, download the PDF of our latest report on this company. 

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