Examples of regenerative medicine sound like science fiction: 3D tissue printing, regrowing tissue and stem cell therapy. But Dr. Robert Guldberg, incoming director of the Knight Campus and current executive director of the bioengineering institute at Georgia Tech, will tell you that many such techniques are not only real, but also save lives.
“It’s actually a field that’s 25 years old now,” Guldberg said. “And that may be surprising to people.”
On Wednesday, April 4 at 4 p.m. in Lillis 182, Guldberg will present his ongoing research during a lecture titled “The Perils and Promise of Regenerative Medicine.” He will not start working full time at UO until August. He said he hopes this brief visit will help him make connections at the university and throughout the state. While UO currently lacks an engineering program, Guldberg said that discussions about establishing such a program have occured and that he will recruit more bioengineers to campus.
“Part of the reason I was hired was that there is a recognition that the complex problems we work on now require an interdisciplinary approach,” Guldberg said. “And UO has absolutely terrific life sciences and other areas, but they don’t have engineering. To complete that innovation cycle requires an entire team at UO.”
At its core, regenerative medicine — a subset of bioengineering — develops biological solutions instead of using metal, plastic or other non-biological methods to work with serious medical conditions such as an extreme injury or birth defects. Regenerative medicine has great potential, according to Guldberg, who cited 3D printed tissues that have already been used on human patients.
Guldberg said the 3D printing technology has been “actually used to save several babies’ lives.”
If administered correctly, bioengineered tissue can grow and assimilate with a given individual. Non-organic implants lack such capability. Also, non-organic implants pose various risks that bioengineered tissue could theoretically avoid, such as a pacemaker running out of battery. But Guldman said numerous technical, regulatory and ethical challenges remain for regenerative medicine specialists.
“You have some of these stem cell clinics that are just using the marketing of, ‘Hey we’ve got stem cells. We’ll stick them into your spine and you’ll feel better,’” Guldberg said. “They’re not necessarily putting good science behind that. It’s a pretty layered area that is making an impact now but is also something that we have to be careful of and make sure there is good science behind the therapies.”
Commercialization is also a quandary for regenerative medicine researchers like Guldberg.
“The reality is, if you can’t take these new technologies and turn them into a business that makes money,” Guldberg said, “then you can’t get them into patients.”
Given his engineering background, Guldberg said he is particularly concerned with establishing a quality control system for cells used in cell therapy.
“Cell therapies are where the automotive industry was in the early 1900s,” Guldberg said. “We can do it in a sort of one-off way, but it’s very expensive. The quality control is not there. We haven’t even really decided what should we measure to know we’ve got a good quality cell to put into a patient.”
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