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Advances in Regenerative Medicine

Building body parts. We look at the startling advance and ethics of regenerative medicine.

A researcher at Wake Forest University School of Medicine dips a specially constructed biodegradable mold, shaped like a bladder, and seeded with human bladder cells, into a growth solution. (AP)

Every day, more than one hundred thousand Americans are waiting for organ transplants. Heart, liver, kidney, lung – and tissue and more, for all over the body.

The next frontier is regenerative medicine. Growing human body parts, essentially from scratch.

It’s already happening. Skin. Bladder. More or less “printed” out, layer by layer, with cells blown through an inkjet printer.

The great hope is creating and replacing body parts on demand. The U.S. military is all over it. So are people who want to live forever. So are ethicists.

This Hour, On Point: building body parts, and regenerative medicine.


Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and chair of the urology department at the School of Medicine at Wake Forest University. He led the first team ever to implant a laboratory-grown organ into a human, a bladder, in 2006.

George Annas, chair and professor in the Department of Health Law, Bioethics and Human Rights at the Boston University School of Public Health. His most recent book is Worst Case Bioethics: Death, Disaster, and Public Health.” Annas is a former chair of the Massachusetts Organ Transplant Task Force.


See George Annas chat with Atul Gawande about ethics issues and organ donation.

And watch Wake Forest researchers growing organs in the lab:

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  • Gary

    Are we talking about regenerating something that was lost, or adding ‘extras’, like that women in Total Recall?

    If it costs about $2000 just to walk into a ER, then a regenerated appendage would be priced at what 200K/inch…or maybe 600K/LB would be better. It will be good research aiding those who can afford it, like CEO’s and Senators that get hurt on their many junkets.

  • http://www.lifesharers.org Dave Undis

    This is extremely exciting stuff. It’s too bad it won’t happen fast enough to help the people who need organ transplants today.

    Over half of the 106,000 Americans on the national transplant waiting list will die before they get a transplant. Most of these deaths are needless. Americans bury or cremate about 20,000 transplantable organs every year. Over 9,000 of our neighbors suffer and die needlessly every year as a result.

    There is a simple way to put a big dent in the organ shortage — give organs first to people who have agreed to donate their own organs when they die.

    Giving organs first to organ donors will convince more people to register as organ donors. It will also make the organ allocation system fairer. People who aren’t willing to share the gift of life should go to the back of the waiting list as long as there is a shortage of organs.

    Anyone who wants to donate their organs to others who have agreed to donate theirs can join LifeSharers. LifeSharers is a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die. Membership is free at http://www.lifesharers.org or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition. LifeSharers has over 13,700 members.

  • Michael

    cool topic, can you ask what chemicals are being used to accomplish this? Could this be done for cancer cells?

  • http://politywonk.livejournal.com Elizabeth

    How does this impact the search for a cure for Huntington’s Disease? From what little I understand, there is a genetic anomaly that replicates itself in every single cell, from toenails to hair tips. My roommate has this neurology; can any of this help her and others like her?

  • Philip

    With the continuously rising cost of medical care, one is forced to wonder whether this is going to be one of those high-end treatments that’s only readily available to those who can afford it.

    I also have to wonder: Has anyone else here heard of the movie Repo Men? There are some really dystopian possibilities inherent in technology like this.


  • Rachel

    I think your music to go to break should be Oingo Boingo’s “Weird Science” !!

  • Todd

    Ink jet printer organs? Could cause one helluva paper jam.

  • LW

    I’m 30 years old, and I have a partial femur transplant from a cadaver bone for a low grade bone cancer back in 1998. The cancerous part of my femur was surgically removed, and a section of a cadaver bone was grafted into my femur. A long stainless steel plate and 12 screws were added to my femur for support.

    The surgery was very difficult, and the recovery was very long and very painful although ultimately successful! I have been cancer-free for 12 years now. I’m also physically active – I have a slight limp although I’m able to participate in low impact exercise. I will always have to be cautious of fracture and bacterial infection, which would lead me back to surgery and possibly even amputation.

    I am excited to hear that the technology is developing to give people afflicted with cancer and other diseases & conditions a better quality of life. I’m grateful that I lived through my experience with cancer and have the use of both legs, but I miss skating, running, and the other activities that having a healthy skeleton allowed. The fear of fracture or infection is something that I live with everyday, but I just have to remind myself that I am happy and healthy today.

  • roddy o’sullivan

    Can I add that we need to pause and think about this stuff. On a previous show Tom discussed Stem Cell technologies with Dave Scadden (February 5, 2009). In this show it was pretty much painted that we’re ready to go with this stuff. I would say we are not…. but there is immense pressure to get stem cells onto the frontline of disease prevention and regeneration. But recently there have been mounting concerns about the veracity of the science coming from within the field and from pre-eminent stem cell biologists like Austin Smith and Robin Lovell Badge, Essentially, there were 4 papers published in Nature a few months ago where the authors all showed that when you remove a gene called p53 that you can make stem cells from skin cell much more efficiently. It was viewed outside the field as a major breakthrough as it heralded the day when we could easily generate the supplies of stem cells which are depleted as we age or as we damage our genome.

    However, it depends on how risky or even crazy you would be to take this as it is presented. p53 is known as the “gatekeeper” of the genome…. it is mutated therefore not functional in 85-95% of cancer and is essential to a correct maintenance of genetic integrity. The implication therefore is that these papers showed how efficiently one could make cancer stem cells NOT benign stem cells that are ready to go.

    I think we have to understand that the stem cell science is in it’s early adolesence and that we need to take a stem back and look at the data and be aware of the powerful outside pressures to get this stuff out there on the frontline.


  • Bill

    Is there any work in regenerative medicine involving the eye and restoration of a person’s eyesight?

  • John

    I have a daughter with mitral valve leakage. is this something regenerative medicine could address? and if so when?

  • Robin Vitali

    I am always in awe of those who dedicate their lives to improving the state of humanity. So far I and my family have been blessed with good health and have not had to face the crisis of someone we love being in need of an organ transplant. I am so thankful that there are people in this world who give us all hope that should the need arise, organ donors give this precious gift, and should that fail, then one day maybe, just maybe, an organ can be created to save the life of someone we love.

  • Charlotte Pacini

    Is cartillage regeneration instead of knee replacement available now or in the near future?

  • Allen

    His experiments I am personally aware of on mammalian models were amazingly successful. I am not sure if Dr Atala mentioned some of the huge savings to the health care system that their initial work reveals. In the case of bladder regeneration there may be an order of magnitude reduction in the lifetime medical cost per patient, not to mention much better results in terms of rapid success, total outcome, and the patient’s quality of life.

  • Scott P

    Although I agree the cost of treatment will lead to ethical issues I find the biggest ethical question to be how far is too far in extending the lives of single human beings? The disparity in longevity as well as quality of life is already significantly reflective of economic status, this seems excepted in our society to a large degree. However our planet can only support a limited number of people, how can those so inclined take up residence for hundreds of years if that becomes possible without infringing on the rights of society at large?

  • Liz B.

    Many people are not and will not be able to afford these services.

    Interestingly, a great deal of federal dollars are being used for these research studies but again, as usual, costs are socialized and benefits privatized.

  • James J Mrotek

    I was impressed with the clarity, word choice and ability of Dr. Atala to choose common discriptive analogies. Dr. Atala’s cool facility in handling questions about a complex art was excellent (he avoided getting into complex subjects like growth medium bathing the cells, how the various cell types in his parent tissue were isolated to make them available in his ‘layering’, avoiding contamination, etc). With Tom’s guidance he maintained focus on those facts germaine to the ‘overall picture’. Dr. Atala was a good choice for an interview. I was a little sad when the lines to callers were opened and specifice cases started being discussed. To Dr. Atala’s credit after he had replied to the question he tried to apply the question to the interviews main focus.

    General Comments: Mr. Ashbrook seemed a little shakey as he began this segment but soon got into his usual compentent handling of the discussents. Dr. Atala appeared to resolutely avoid certain questions and comments from Mr. Ashbrook (e.g. stem cells). I was happy that Mr. Ashbrook persisted by giving him an out. From the information accopanying the topic at this site I obsevere that Dr. Atala specializes in Urological Medicine, perhaps some of his avoidance reflects his desire to stay with his expertise.

    As background for the above comments, they relect my 32 years teaching at an HBCU medical school and in addition, experience as a adrenal tissue culture scientist. Being retired 5 years, I had not heard of the applied field of Transplant Medicine so this interview excited me. It also saddened me because Parkinsons precludes my ability to continue in this area.

    Bring Dr. Atala back soon!

  • cory

    I’m sure these advances can help a lot of people with specific medical issues, but….

    Medicine needs to step back a bit from the “cutting edge” and worry more about the basics. These super expensive procedures benefit statistically very few people. Any funds remaining after basic wellness is assured for everyone can be used for this or the newest “boner” pill. This is of course a natural result of having a profit motive in medicine.

  • Warren

    Im not sure if anyone has posted, but how soon will we be able to “bank” our organs for a rainy day??

  • Paul Gaudet

    Are the scientists and researchers considering the large cohort of men interested in repairing the mutilation they endured through infant circumcision? While homemade devices provide men with some restoration through tissue expansion, the process is painstakingly slow (years of daily application, 8 – 10 hrs or more) and the results cannot restore the functions lost from the severed smooth muscle sheath (dartos fascia), the lost frenulum (the retracting “bowstring” or tethering structure), and the removal of the Meissner’s corpuscles (important to detecting sensations of temperature, motion, and pressure).
    It seems to me that these tissues might be “relatively easy” to restore and to surgically re-attach!

  • http://www.bbri.org Jake Layton

    One of the callers asked about research into Muscular Dystrophy. Boston Biomedical Research Institute – a 40-year old, independent, non-profit research center in Watertown – is working on developing new therapies for adult-onset FSH dystrophy, and has been awarded one of the nation’s 6 Wellstone Center grants for the study of MD. Through its collaboration with patients, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Genzyme and Acceleron Pharma, Inc., BBRI is working to develop biomarkers for FSHD that will enable clinicians to determine the effectiveness of given therapies in eradicating the disease. The work BBRI is doing is likely to have an important impact on a wide variety of muscle diseases.

    BBRI’s Regenerative Biology Program includes the development of an adult stem cell technology center, using a patented development process, to provide access to a variety of human stem cells for research and development, which will be vital to developing new stem cell therapies for disease intervention.

    This kind of research is enormously important, and, because it is high-risk, cutting-edge research, attracting the necessary funding is not easy. While NIH does provide the bulk of grant funding for existing investigators, it does not fund new investigators, those who are engaged in establishing their own cutting-edge research programs. Therefore, organizations like BBRI must rely on other sources of funding to attract new investigators and develop new areas of research. Please visit http://www.bbri.org for more information.

  • Patricia

    My daughter has a giant nevus and over 100 satellite nevi. How close are you to growing new skin? Would it be all layers of skin? She needs to have the nevus excised but doesn’t have much clean skin to use as a graft.

  • http://NPR Reynold

    This is wonderful news especially after eight years of what seems like the dark ages.

  • Rita

    Very good science show.

    The bioethicist on was wrong on two important counts. First, it is not correct to say these treatments will not be available in a person’s lifetime, although true in some caess. Dr. Atala said on 60 Minutes that he thinks many organs will go in trials in 2015. Others may beat his research group as well.

    Second, hte bioethicist dismissed brain rejuviation. There are already techniques understudy to keep the brain healthy as if younger.

  • http://jottings.thought.org Gary Kline

    The interesting thing here is the rapidity with which sci-tech keeps advancing! I’m still hopeful that some nature of neuro stem cell implantation will be able to help with a “stroke-like” brain injury that happened in the 1960s. I was too old then for plain–even vigorous–therapy to help me regain movement. So hoping than when they thaw me out in a few centuries, the current regenerative therapies will have made progress.

    Thanks to y’all at KBUR for a superb broadcast.

    • http://www.youtube.com/danielvincentkelley DanielVincentKelley

      Hey Gary! I urge you to return to this webpage, Advances in Regenerative Medicine, and read my message to Rob Krammerer, posted 19APR11. I wrote a bunch about using sperm for regenerative medicine. You are able to inject stem cells into the bloodstream, using a hypodermic needle. In the blood stream stem cells travel the whole body, including the brain, they adhere where there’s damage and they become the appropriate cells for that area. So, that’d be a solution for your brain damage induced paralysis, is to inject your sperm into your bloodstream. It can also be done with fat cells, regenerative medicine. So you could have a doctor do liposuction on you, make sure the fat is broken up well enough to flow through the bloodstream, possibly add some saline to it, then inject that into your bloodstream. Waiting on the criminal medical eSTABlishment to cure you is a fools errand and will be in a couple hundred years, if there is still a medical establishment then, as there may not be, considering the present advanced mass extinction that’s underway, nearing the level of the dino mass extinction, the top dominants global environmental sabotage, which will soon hit humanity like Jupiter fallen to Earth, on setting a dark age by near total human eradication, terminating everyone who is literate, minimally.

      • http://www.youtube.com/danielvincentkelley DanielVincentKelley

        In 2002, I read of regenerative medicine curing mice of paralysis due brain damage by Multiple Sclerosis, I read of regen med that cured mice of paralysis due spinal cord damage. I read of mice cured of diabetes by regen med. All of those therapies and more, born blind cured even, have been suppressed. I read recently of mice being cured of diabetes using sperm as stem cells. The earlier study that cured diabetes was a bit different. Anyhow, point being, the top dominant predator on Earth, the most hugely murderous man of all time, MUST suppress regenerative medicine, as he risks spawning a challenger who might survive to reject his dominance and ultimately send him to the nasty hell he has earned. So, curing yourself of brain damage paralysis, is going to require initiative and dedication and maybe some good friends.

        Regarding your comment on here, this site is blatant propaganda. The therapies are known. The eSTABlishment have been led to believe they are the chosen and will be allowed to abuse regenerative medicine toward their own immortality. In reality they are all as much targets of the top dominant predator, as the similar situation has repeated itself time and again for at least 13k years as history, archaeology and geology record. Humans thrive, he nearly extincts everybody, especially everyone who has so much as a smidgen of knowledge, there’s a dark age until he supposes he needs massive effective weaponry enough to dispatch all the up and comers. Then he puts on global war society for as long as it takes to eradicate ALL challengers.

        The hidden Emperor is the most cunning master of divide and conquer.

        So! I think, if you take a cryo nap for a couple hundred years, you’ll wake up in the afterlife when he’s terminated all the people who were to support you in your sleep and that results your own passing from this universe.

        It’s nearly unavoidable anyhow, death. Most people who have experienced it, death, and lived to talk about it, say that it was total peace. So, it’s not the worst thing that could happen. That’d be you serve the Emperor, the worst thing that could happen to you. But, I sure wouldn’t want to plan a cryogenics nap as how to regain mobility and life. Especially when it’s so easy as liposuction some fat cells for use as adult stem cells and inject them in your blood stream.

        I should also mention, strokes and weak brain tissue in general, is often caused by not consuming adequate complementary proteins. You MUST eat BEANS, they are compulsory. You must combine that bean consumption with consuming one of these nuts, seeds, or grains. That makes COMPLETE protein, the combo of beans and nuts, seeds or grains. You also need what’s in leafy greens, cruciferous veges, red yellow orange veges, fruits, organosulfur (garlic, onions), fermented vegetables, pure water, and IODINE (the most important, obscure and neglected nutrient).

  • Rob Kammerer


    • http://www.youtube.com/danielvincentkelley DanielVincentKelley

      Hey Rob! Sperm are stem cells. If you look up on youtube “The man who grew a finger”, you can watch a video about a guy who lost his finger in a RC airplane accident. He applied regenerative medicine with adult stem cells (sperm cells or fat cells will do). He regrew his finger complete, regained the finger nail. The nail on that 1 finger grew back in quicker than on all his other fingers, because it had been restored to youth. Which is why the top dominant financially and militantly and murderously, doesn’t want to let anyone know what can be done with regenerative medicine, because he needs to control people into oblivion so that he will never endure any serious challenge to his eternal rule on Earth. Evidence of the Empire exists in the fields of archaeology and geology indicating the most advanced weapons existed dating to about 13,000 years ago. So, it seems the top dominant predator on Earth may be about 13,000 years old.

      Anyhow, the guy who regrew his finger, makes it seem like it’s this easy, apply stem cells, sperm, to the missing area, especially where the stem cells experience fresh blood flow regularly, so, not on dead surface skin, but on the live layer of skin just beneath, where in lay the capillaries. You might access that layer of skin with a rough pad for exfoliating.

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