Growing New Organs

Regenerative medicine involves healing the body by replacing or regenerating cells, tissues or organs. It includes things like stem-celland bone-marrow transplants, as well as artificial organs and medical devices. But there are currently some limits to this field. Artificial hearts are only used when a patient is about to die because they simply don’t last long enough. If you need a new organ that can be transplanted, like a kidney, you may be on dialysis for years, at a cost of up to $30,000 per year. About 18 people die each day in the U.S. waiting on an organ transplant. Then if you do find a donor and get a new organ, there are issues such as rejection to contend with.

But what if instead of getting a donated organ or implanting an artificial medical device, you could just grow a new organ? Futurists believe that we’ll be there in 10 to 20 years. Growing organs will not only save lives; it will also save the cost of treatments. Our aging population will require better and more efficient ways of managing their health, and a sort of “body shop” where you can replace what wears out will contribute to that. It’s probably not as far away as you might think. In 2008, British doctors implanted the first engineered organ, a new windpipe that was grown from the patient’s own stem cells. We’re already using tissue-engineered skin for burn patients, and there are clinical trials growing all kinds of other human cells, organs and tissues, from ears to blood vessels.

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