Organ and tissue loss due to disease or injury drive the development of regenerative medicine, reducing healthcare’s reliance on transplantations. The process of getting a transplant is difficult and time-consuming since the patient has to find a donor with compatible organs or tissues. And not all patients have the luxury of time when their life is on the line.
Regenerative medicine combines tissue engineering and molecular biology, stimulating the body’s natural repair and healing mechanisms. This means engineering, replacing or regenerating human cells, tissues or organs to restore normal bodily functions.
The Regenerative Medicine Manufacturing Society (RMMS) recently formed a group of researchers who will identify gaps and solutions in the industry. The goal is to develop standardised manufacturing processes to introduce efficient new therapies to the market, improving patient access and outcomes.
RMMS identified four areas that are critical to advancing regenerative medicine, and one of them is 3D bioprinting.
Medical 3D printing technology is quickly emerging as a powerful tool for building tissue and organ structures. This technology has exploded in medicine in the last few years, but its application mainly focused on mass producing surgical tools, prosthetic implants and orthopedic replacements.
Now, bioprinting pushes the boundaries of medical 3D printing. It fabricates three-dimensional structures of biological materials, from organs down to biochemicals. The tissue and organ replicates can be transplanted onto patients, improving clinical outcomes.
However, regulation is proving to be a barrier to 3D bioprinting. Biomanufacturing comes with complex uncertainties that can be problematic for patients and manufacturers alike. Consider, for instance, a 3D-printed heart. Should regulators consider it as an organ, a product or a medical device? Although the 3D printing of body parts is coming fast, it won’t be available in the market until regulations are finalised.
Scientists still have a long way to go to accomplishing 3D-printed organ transplants. Apart from the regulatory hurdles, it’s also incredibly difficult to connect printed biological materials to the human body. But recently, researchers have made a discovery that can solve this problem.
Keratin, a naturally occurring protein in the body, can be used as biologically compatible scaffolds that can be easily adopted by the body without harm.
In biology, scaffolds are structures that provide support, triggering the body’s natural cell repair mechanism at the site of the injury. The scaffold should mimic the biological structure and function of the injured body part for the regeneration to be successful.
The researchers found that keratin, which is the fundamental building block of hair, nails and skin, is the most durable, compatible and abundant biological material in the body. This makes keratin a viable scaffold ingredient, which helps push tissue engineering.
These technological innovations – bioprinting and keratin scaffolding – help advance regenerative medicine. This field shows a lot of promise for the future of healthcare. Most medical fields focus on simply managing or curing symptoms, whereas regenerative medicine treats or replaces the underlying cause of the disease. As such, this field has the potential to disrupt medicine, pushing the National Health Service’s goal to focus on prevention instead of treatment.