The future of medicine is regenerative, and researchers at Tsinghua University, China, and the University of Alberta, Canada, are leading efforts to develop stem cell-based ways to successfully heal serious and persistent wounds. Currently, the methods for replacing an organ or conducting
a skin graft are quite rudimentary. Organs are donated from those with a compatible blood type, and skin is taken from one part of the body to cover another. This requires great skill and can be very effective, however, problems still regularly arise. Organs can be rejected and receivers can
end up taking immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of their lives. Skin grafts, on the other hand, can remain conspicuous and fail to retain all the characteristics of normal skin. True regenerative medicine would provide long-term solutions to these problems in a reliable and repeatable matter.
Wu and Tredget are specifically attempting to tackle the problems associated with severe and persistent wounds. Crucially, it must be noted that tackling these sorts of injuries is not as straightforward as simply adding stem cells to the relevant area. There are several obstacles to the establishment
and growth of stem cells involved in proper wound healing, which the researchers must overcome. Firstly, they have to tackle the question of which variety of stem cells work the best for growing on and repairing wounds. Subsequently, they must work out how to maintain the structural integrity
of the newly growing cells. All the cells that make up large structures in the body contribute to a superstructure known as the extracellular matrix (ECM). The ECM is made up of a vast complex of proteins and polysaccharides that act as structural support, cell-to-cell communication aids and
a means by which to encourage correct differentiation of progenitor cells, among other roles. This structure tends to be lacking in newly grown cells, often leading them to fall apart before healing is complete. The final and perhaps most complex problem entails encouraging the stem cells
to create unique tissue structures. In the case of skin, for example, perhaps the biggest problem comes from the creation of hair follicles. These structures are complex, and require stem cells to differentiate down a different path than required to create the cells in the rest of the skin.
Wu and Tredget want to develop a means by which to recreate skin in its entirety. To do this, they need to consider all the aspects of regeneration, including the generation of hair follicles, as well as structural scaffolds on which to build their cellular complex.
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