The Next Five Years Will Be a Transformative Period in Tissue Engineering

Looking at the near time, it seems that the next five years will see the tissue engineering community move from a few trials and some impressive demonstrations to real, commercialized work available in a scattering of clinics. Few of those clinics will be in the US, of course, as the FDA will add a cost of years and vast sums through the entirely unnecessary process of going from "can do" to "can do and allowed to do" - but the capabilities will exist. Take this, for example:

Stem cell researchers in Hong Kong and the United States are trying to grow spare parts for the human heart that may be ready for tests on people within five years ... When you get a heart attack, there is a small time window for a cure when the damage is still small. You can cure with a patch, a small tissue, so you won't progress to late stage heart failure ... The team will use approved human embryonic stem cell lines to build these human heart muscle strips, as well as [biological pacemaker tissues] for people with arrhythmia, or irregular heart beat.

The team plans first to transplant these muscle strips and pacemakers into pigs, and, if successful, to move to human clinical trials where they will transplant parts of the heart that are grown using the patients' own stem cells in about five years.

You might compare the research effort discussed in the article quoted above to other recent work on patching a damaged heart using stem cells. The two are illustrative of quite different directions in regenerative medicine: one path is to put cells into the body and let them build new tissue and repair damage in situ, whilst the other is to build new tissue structures (or even entire organs) outside the body and then surgically implant them. Personally, I favor the former approach, provided it can be made to achieve the same degree of effectiveness in the future - despite advancing technology, surgery remains surgery, and not something that any sane person would want to undergo unless absolutely necessary.


As the technology becomes more available outside the U.S. rather than in, it will become more common for insurance companies to offer the "medical tourism" option. Of course, Congress may decide to make this illegal. In which case, it will have to be paid for out of pocket.

Posted by: Abelard Lindsey at August 18th, 2011 6:49 PM
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