Regenerative medicine is a concept that will continue to become a more prevalent practice in medical and science fields.
Though the concept has been around for some time, researchers are just starting to truly learn its benefits and how it can help all forms of life on our planet.
Regenerative medicine seeks to regenerate or repair tissue, organs, or cells. It commonly involves treatment through the use of cell therapy and other biological products to treat disease or injury. A common form of regenerative therapy consists of using stem cells to treat orthopedic disease or injury.
The Comparative Orthopedics and Regenerative Medicine Laboratory (CORML) at Texas A&M University (TAMU) currently researches regenerative medicine in equine (horse). This research aids in the understanding and healing of tendons, ligaments, and bone injuries in horses as well as humans.
The CORML lab is run by director Ashlee Watts, DVM, Ph.D., DACVS, and equine orthopedic surgeon. Dr. Watts splits her time between being a surgeon and performing/overseeing research.
Through Dr. Watts’ guidance, graduate student researchers such as Anne Peters, Ph.D. candidate and research assistant, are able to conduct innovative research in regenerative medicine.
Currently, Peters studies how mesenchymal stem cells function in an inflamed horse joint. Her research with equine may someday become a guide to similarly treat the joints of humans through mesenchymal stem cells.
“Horses are very physiologically similar as far as the joint goes to humans. So, [they are] athletically comparable and the joint environment is physiologically comparable so it's a good model for studying joint injury,” Peters said. “These types
of stem cells, they come from the bone marrow and so they can differentiate into bone, fat and muscle and tissues of the mesenchymal origin. So, any disease that manifests itself in those types of tissues, it could be a treatment option.”
Though Peters is able to perform her research in a world-class lab with state-of-the-art equipment, there is still much to learn about the function of stem cells in animals.
“When they first started using this as a treatment, people assumed that because they can differentiate into those different tissue types that they would go into the site of injury and differentiate into tissues. But what we're finding out over the years, is actually cell communication,” Peters said. “We put the stem cells in and they're talking to the neighboring cells, and they're recruiting in endogenous progenitor cells which means like your own your own stem cells to come in and regenerate that tissue … there are challenges and then there are advantages on all sides.”
In addition to research, the CORML lab is able to utilize its findings to treat horses when possible.
“I sometimes get to go down there and deliver the stem cells to [the horse]. So, when a clinical case comes in, they have an appointment. We bring the frozen cells and thaw them, and ultrasound usually and inject them right there and then we take them back up to the lab and check the viability,” Peters said. “The first time I ever brought cells down was both terrifying and like the most exciting thing I ever did all at once.”
The CORML lab works to help solve common problems in the science community through their insights into stem cells. To continue to make breakthroughs in regenerative research, Peters understands that any insights found through her work might only answer one of her questions, but could very well open the door for others to be answered.
“With our xenogen-free product that we're working on, I think that's going to have a big impact on how we grow cells because the FBS (Fetal Bovine Serum) contamination is a problem that everybody deals with and a lot of people are working on ways to solve that problem,” Peters said. “As far as my research goes … every little bit that I can contribute to the mechanism, understanding the mechanism of how stem cells function in the inflamed joint is just going to help move us forward as far as the research goes. So, every question that you answer, everything you get a little bit closer to, brings you to another question, and then it just moves forward from there.”
As far as the future of regenerative medicine goes, it’s all a part of the story of science. A large, never-ending book that we may never be able to fully understand, but we will surely be able to appreciate.
“It’s hard to say that my one manuscript solved this problem, but it really does contribute,” Peters said. “The more you look through the literature and get familiar as I'm doing now with this manuscript, I'm realizing it kind of tells a story over time. That story has so many pieces, so many chapters. It's a big book, but it's good; that's the beauty of science.”