As one might imagine, human regenerative capacity varies depending on the site of the injury. Our muscle tissue is seeded with progenitor cells, which assist in regenerating tissue after workouts or other trauma-related injuries. Some areas of the body however, such as the spinal cord, do not possess any native regenerative capacity. The spinal cord houses the major spinal nerves and is responsible for relaying sensory information between the brain and the body. Those who have had spinal cord injuries may experience varying degrees of paralysis depending on how high up the spinal column the injury occurred.
Fortunately, there are several incredible developments on the horizon for helping (and in some cases curing) long-term disability. Medical researchers have collaborated with roboticists to produce prosthetic arms, legs, feet, and hands that are capable of interpreting signals from the brain. Since the signal from the brain to healthy muscle tissue is electrical, the device itself is able to interpret the electrical signal in much the same way that healthy tissue would and respond in a similar way. These developments are of particular interest to militaries and Veterans’ Affairs groups worldwide, as war-related extremity damage is extremely common and costly.
Human stem cell research is another incredibly promising field for such studies. Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that have yet to specialize according to the bodies various needs (muscle cells, bone tissue cells, etc.). Researchers hope to direct the growth of stem cells harvested from individual patients to grow replacement organs in the event of kidney or liver failure, in addition to providing stem cells to aid in regenerating tissue after an injury. Healthcare delivery in the future may in fact center on stem cell injections to cure a variety of diseases, defects, and other health conditions.
Researchers are also working on implementing nanotechnology within stem cell applications. Nanotechnology is a scientific field in which matter is manipulated at extremely small scales (many times thinner than a human hair), fundamentally changing its properties and applications. Present efforts include making cancer treatment drugs “smarter,” that is, more able to differentiate between healthy tissue and cancerous tumors. When it comes to long-term disability, nanotechnology is being developed to aid in human regenerative capacity both in order to minimize the necessary rehabilitation time during post-operative care and produce healing in areas of the body that were previously damaged beyond repair (such as the case with many spinal cord injuries).
Stem cell research, Nanotechnology are the major important areas where a lot of research is happening.
What are your views about the changes and trends that are happening in the medical field?