Although doctors may someday heal weakened body parts by infusing them with stem cells that develop into specialized tissues, coaxing the body´s own cells to become self-repairing would be an even bigger biological coup. What if we could simply prompt damaged organs to repair themselves?
Glenn Larsen, the chief scientific officer at Hydra Biosciences in Boston, has been chasing this regenerative dream for the past four years. With help from a team of Harvard University researchers, Larsen and his colleagues are developing protein-based drugs that encourage the regrowth of muscle tissue that has died after a heart attack.
â€The heart is constantly secreting chemical factors it needs to maintain itself,â€ Larsen explains. â€All we´re doing is trying to enhance that.â€ Fair enough, but his company is likely to be the first to take the revolutionary step of harnessing these natural processes to grow new tissue where and when it is needed. With restored heart-muscle function, patients would be able to resume swimming, running or just gardening much sooner. They would also be less prone to congestive heart failure, which kills more than 50,000 Americans every year.
The strategy Larsen envisions is simple, though groundbreaking. Patients will use a self-delivery device, such as an inhaler or supersonic drug gun, to propel the regenerative protein molecules into their bloodstream. The circulating molecules will bind to receptors on the surfaces of their damaged heart-muscle cells, touching off a chemical reaction that mutes the activity of genes inhibiting cell division. Once this biological switch has been thrown, new heart cells will begin to develop, filling in the dead-tissue gaps. The result: Within a few weeks, heart-muscle function will be permanently restored.
Human trials of Hydra´s cardiac drugs won´t begin for another few years, but experimental evidence already points to the treatment´s potential. Last year, Hydra researchers induced heart attacks in rats, then dosed them with CRF-1, one of the protein compounds under investigation, for 10 days. A month after their heart attacks, the rats receiving treatment demonstrated heart-muscle function that was about 20 percent better than that of the control group.
â€Can we get regeneration to work? The answer is yes,â€ says Mark Keating, a Hydra co-founder and the head of human genetics at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. â€By releasing the genetic brakes, so to speak, it´s possible to get different types of cells to proliferate.â€
What an exciting era for medicine. Organs grown in side the body which in turn will reduce the rejection of transplanted organs and simultaneously render the illegal practice of buying and selling human organs. There remains an area of health management that is alluding our health, that is our mental well being. The stresses and anxieties caused by our modern living and capitalism is an area of research that must takes some precedence in the next decade. For without good mental health our bodies will continue to breakdown and decay.
Unfortunately, technologies such as this could also be applied to athletic cheating, giving a boost to muscles that are perfectly normal. An athlete gets his/her hands on this, and the triggering of cell division gives said athlete more muscle mass.
Another problem posed by this technology is the prospect of uncontrolled division of cells. If a protein like that mentioned remains in the bloodstream and within cells, it could stay there for longer than anticipated. Another protein that codes for a "stop sign" should also be administered after a patient has regained his/her former abilities.
Olathe North Geosciences