The convergence of funding and estimated timelines in science is a fascinating process to watch; as a general rule, timelines only start to appear once funding is assured. In other words, when the research and cultural environment is supportive and the field of science in question is well underway. By all accounts, widely available medical technology in ten to fifteen years time will be a quite different beast from that of today:
We have identified a very large number of genes that are involved in the regenerative process and probably just as important, a large number of genes that are involved in the inhibition of regeneration," says Stocum.
"Call me Pollyanna but I think yes it is going to happen," says Stocum.
Dr. Stocum realizes it's a lofty goal and one that is still years away.
"Let's put it on a scale of one to ten. We're probably at a three about this point. It's going to take another 10-15 years to accomplish what we want to accomplish."
On the same timescale (and most certainly with or without the government, whatever its employees might think of their own importance) we'll see a newly mature stem cell medicine and tissue engineering of replacement organs.
Within 20 years regenerative medicine will be the standard of care for replacing all tissue/organ systems in the body in addition to extensive industrial use for pharmaceutical testing. The ultimate goal at the end of 20 years is to have real time mass customization of tissues on demand, in vivo. During those 20 years, as our knowledge of tissues grows, it is reasonable to expect to see treatments discovered along the way, roughly at the 5, 10 and 20 year marks. In 5 years the following milestones are hoped for:
Develop multiple applications for skin, cartilage, bone, blood vessel, and some urological products
Solve cell sourcing issues, giving researchers access to the materials they need to design new therapies
Establish cost-effective means of production, paving the way for future products
Establish specialized cell banks for tissue storage, allowing storage of viable "off the shelf" products
In 10 years, effective regenerative medicine therapies will be available for patient care and industrial research and development purposes. At this time, the following may be achieved:
Further understand stem cell and progenitor cell biology
Engineer smart degradable biocompatible scaffolding
Develop microfabrication and nanofabrication technologies to produce tissues with their own complete vascular circulation
Develop complex organ patches, that could repair damaged pieces of the heart or other organs
Ultimately, within 20 years the full benefits of regenerative medicine therapies will be reached. Some of the applications of regenerative medicine could be:
Harness regenerative medicine materials to produce in situ regeneration of diseased and damaged structures in many areas of the body
Regenerate most damaged tissues and organs either in vivo or through implanted regeneration therapies
Produce in vitro sophisticated 3-D tissues and organs that cannot be regenerated through in vivo techniques, such as an entire heart or lung
The more aggressive and optimistic researchers are aiming for first results in a couple of years, while a decade is the more mainstream estimate. We live in interesting times, to see researchers competing to better repair our aging bodies.