Whilst browsing PubMed today, I noticed an informative survey of publication trends in the field of regenerative medicine. The full PDF text is available from the journal for those of you who like to dig further:
The articles published in the journal Cell Transplantation - The Regenerative Medicine Journal over the last two years reveal the recent and future cutting-edge research in the fields of regenerative and transplantation medicine. 437 articles were published from 2007 to 2008, a 17% increase compared to the 373 articles in 2006-2007.
- Neuroscience was still the most common section in both the number of articles and the percentage of all manuscripts published.
- For a similar reason, the methods and new technologies section increased significantly compared to the last period. Articles focusing on the transplantation of stem cell lineages encompassed almost 20% of all articles published.
- By contrast, the non-stem cell transplantation group which is made up primarily of islet cells, followed by biomaterials and fetal neural tissue, etc. comprised less than 15%.
- Transplantation of cells pre-treated with medicine or gene transfection to prolong graft survival or promote differentiation into the needed phenotype, was prevalent in the transplantation articles regardless of the kind of cells used.
- Meanwhile, the majority of non-transplantation-based articles were related to new devices for various purposes, characterization of unknown cells, medicines, cell preparation and/or optimization for transplantation (e.g. isolation and culture), and disease pathology.
I find it reassuring to see a heavy focus on neuroscience in regenerative medicine research. A few years spent watching progress in medical research has not changed my opinion on the need to develop repair technologies for the brain. It is the most vital end result. Our brains are the big deal - the big, complex, show-stopping deal - in regenerative medicine. It doesn't matter how well everything else goes if we can't figure out how to restore damage, age-related or otherwise, in a brain in situ.
All things considered, generating new, healthy human organs looks well on track to being a solved problem and available in the clinic within the next two decades. Researchers can presently grow bone in specific shapes in situ, and take complex organs from animals or human donors and replace all the tissue with the patient's own cells. This suggests that, even discounting the many other lines of tissue engineering research proceeding in parallel, all of the major organs will be replaceable for people who can tolerate the surgery required - except for the brain.
Restoring the brain will require a greater level of understanding as to how cells, regeneration, and growth are programmed and controlled. The end goal might be something like a steady flow of new, undamaged neurons to take the place of those that are lost. In conjunction with therapies to deal with the other aspects of age-related damage, such as the buildup of aggregates seen in Alzheimer's disease, that would go a long way towards setting up a brain for the long term. Or at least long enough for medical science to advance far beyond the bounds of present speculation.
Park DH, & Eve DJ (2009). Regenerative medicine: Advances in new methods and technologies. Medical science monitor : international medical journal of experimental and clinical research, 15 (11) PMID: 19865067