“It’s pulsing; it’s beating! Now THAT is cool.”
The “it” in question is a small cluster of cardiac cells, viewed under a microscope by ABC news anchor Bill Weir. The cells are his, but it’s not just the novelty of watching a miniature version of his own heart that excites Weir. Here’s the punch line: though the cells act and beat like normal cardiac cells, they were originally taken from his left bicep.
The Mayo Clinic in Rochester is at the forefront of regenerative medicine, the practice of solving medical problems with tissue from the patient’s own body. It’s an intuitive method: the chance of your body rejecting an organ transplant is greatly reduced if the organ has your genetic information and was created from your own cells. The trick is to use adult stem cells as opposed to the much more controversial embryonic stem cells. This involves taking cells from an adult and “erasing” their memory, returning them to stem cell state. As with embryonic stem cells, these cells are extremely adaptable and can be used to form almost any sort of cell in the body. By this method, a small sample of skin cells can grow into a new lung, liver, or heart, depending on what is needed. This would effectively allow doctors to create personal “repair kits” for patients with replacements of vital organs at the ready.
Beyond creating spare parts of our bodies, another goal of regenerative medicine is to help the body heal and restore internal tissue using its own cells. Mayo doctor Anthony Windebank envisions the self-reparation of serious injuries like spinal cord damage. This is difficult work for surgeons since correctly connecting nerve cells is a delicate and difficult process. If the nerve cells could be grown inside the body, perhaps they could connect with each other in the right ways, allowing healing from within. "We are able to get in animals regeneration of spinal cord tissue," he says in a Rochechester Post-Bulletin article. "Can we get them to connect up to where we need them to go in the spine and the spinal cord?"
Though the idea of humans with regenerative bodies sounds somewhat like science fiction, it’s important to remember that there is much more research to be done in the field before anything is perfected. That said, the study of regenerative medicine is continuously moving forward at Rochester, where the goal is to turn research into solutions for patients with all due haste. It’s this immediate application of regenerative laboratory work that makes Mayo Clinic special, as Dr. Andre Terzic explains:
“[W]e have a dedicated regenerative-medicine clinic, and that clinic is, to our knowledge, very unique in the health care profession. We are not actually aware of another regenerative-medicine clinic in the United States or abroad."
(Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons and Christo and Melissa Phillips)
The pioneering approach of the doctors and researchers at Mayo Clinic regularly draws attention, patients, and funding for the clinic. For some further reading on research and funding at Mayo Clinic, please click the button below:
If you are a science researcher or lab supplier interested in networking at the Mayo Clinic, plan to attend Biotechnology Calendar, Inc.'s Rochester BioResearch Product Faire™ event, which will be held on September 25, 2013. You can reserve a space early by clicking this button:
Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. is a full-service event marketing and planning company producing on-campus life science research tradeshows nationwide for going on 21 years. We plan and promote each event to bring the best products and services to the best research campuses across the country. Life science researchers, purchasing agents, and lab managers are actively invited to attend to see the latest products and equipment and discuss their laboratory tool and service needs. See our Nationwide Show Schedule for 2013 if our shows sound like a good fit for you.