Regenerative medicine, which seeks to regrow lost or damaged human body parts ranging from patches of skin to entire limbs, may prove especially promising given recent advances in genetic therapy. “Gene therapy has the potential to provide reconstructive surgeons with a new approach to solving one of their most difficult problems: the lack of adequate tissues to correct deformities of a specific area or structure. For example, in patients with relatively small burns, plastic and reconstructive surgeons have designed a wide range of skin flaps for use in transferring healthy tissue to the burned area.”
What’s the Big Idea?
Beyond growing new skin, researchers have targeted bone as a potential body part that could be regrown using gene therapy. “One study reported clinical benefits using gene therapy to regenerate joint cartilage in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Techniques to promote healing of tendons, regeneration of injured nerves, and growth of skin flaps for reconstructive surgery are all being explored.” Current obstacles to employing regenerative treatment in medical clinics include the relative scarcity, and therefore cost, of new genetic technology. Still, researchers are hopeful that barriers will come down in the years ahead.
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