More Thoughts on Regenerative Medicine Timelines

By way of following on from Friday's post on timelines for the next decade in regenerative medicine and organ regrowth, here is another commentary on much the same subject:

Regenerative medicine may transform transplants

Dr. Brooks Edwards [is the] deputy director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Regenerative Medicine and director of the Mayo Transplant Center. [His] goal, before retiring from Mayo, is to be able to treat most of those patients with regenerative strategies, so they don't have to wait for a catastrophe to happen to a healthy person to become an organ donor, he said.

"We're going to have strategies to repopulate cells in the heart for patients with heart failure to restore them to normal cardiac function, we're going to have regenerative medicine strategies to be able to restore diseased liver to healthy liver by re-growing a liver from the recipient," he said. "We're going to have regenerative medicine strategies for patients with chronic lung disease that could avoid lung transplant."

Those treatments are not available now, said Edwards, who is 55. "But I think when you talk about five- and ten-year horizon, I think some of these things are going to become reality and we're going to look back at the current era and say, 'can you imagine that they had to wait for a deceased donor to treat that patient with heart failure?'" he said.

It seems that the research community is fairly bullish on prospects for the next ten years of development - the process of moving new regenerative therapies from laboratory demonstrations to readiness for clinical tests. We should listen to these voices; they form an important signal for those of us who watch the pace of progress. As always, however, this doesn't much account for the roadblock of the FDA, which might well add an additional and very unnecessary decade of delay for any new advance on its way towards widespread clinical application.

Nonetheless, I think it's clear that we live in exciting times. A great deal of money is funneled into applications of stem cell science, and a great deal of progress is occurring: this is a large, active, and enthusiastic research community, racing ahead towards clearly envisaged goals. I do not think it unreasonable to expect to see a range of complex inner organs grown from cells in the laboratory by fifteen to twenty years from now. The challenges are largely those of control and knowledge: figuring out the chemical signals that instruct cells to do the right thing at the right time, building better growth environments to provide cells the right cues, and so forth. This area is exactly where much of the research in the field is focused, so a fair pace of progress should be expected.

That said, I do think it unreasonable to expect the shiny new biotechnologies of 2030 to become widely available very soon after their development, or at least not in the US and Europe, as the present direction for regulation in medicine is to pile costs, requirements, and interference ever higher. That, unfortunately, also slows down the research itself by stifling investment and business development - we can only imagine how rapidly this field would be moving if it didn't take a decade and tens of millions of dollars to push a new therapy through the onerous process of regulatory approval.


The FDA is responsible only for the USA. When other countries, like EU and CHINA, leave behind USA in biotech and medicine, the FDA will be kicked in the butt.

Posted by: Anonymous at November 13th, 2012 2:16 AM

anonymous: that requires a fairly optimistic take on the regulatory environments in EU and China. Perhaps the latter might have a few more opportunities, but countries like that are undoubtedly more unpredictable - perhaps you'll get through without a hitch, or maybe you'll be treated far worse than anywhere in the US. And really, the only reason China doesn't have such a beauracracy is because it can't afford it; such is the nature of poorer states.

Posted by: lisa at November 18th, 2012 11:33 PM
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