By: Jordan Harcourt

There are new and exciting developments in the world of regenerative medicine. With stem cell research opening the door to potential new treatments and cures for known diseases, it is beginning the transition from labs to practice through an ongoing process of commercialization.

Regenerative medicine has the potential to develop treatments for previously incurable diseases. According to the 2009 Regenerative Medicine Industry Report these include chronic conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. The hope is to stimulate cells, tissues and organs, compelling them to self-repair.

The University of Toronto is a leading centre for regenerative medicine and research, largely through the work of the Training Program in Regenerative Medicine (TPRM). The program is associated with Canadian Institutes of Health Research and occurs in U of T’s research laboratories. It boasts Department of Immunology Director at U of T Dr. Gary Levy and Associate Professor of Medicine at U of T Dr. Heather Ross as mentor trainees.

The mandate of the TPRM is to train researchers and practitioners in the field of regenerative medicine, which, says their website, “has the potential to greatly reduce medical and social costs … and to prolong and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Canadians.” The program also exists at the University of Western Ontario, McMaster University and University of Ottawa.

In October, Sir John Gurdon and Professor Shinya Yamanakat were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. Stem cell therapy is one area of research in regenerative medicine, but iPS cells circumvent the politically-sensitive issue.

Dr. Rahul Sarugaser, director of Business Development at the young and not-for-profit Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM), explained that iPS cells “take skin cells from someone and then reprogram them into becoming like embryonic cells.” iPS cells eliminate the ethical issues of researching with embryonic cells, a practice some countries have banned.

Devoid of ethical issues, research in regenerative medicine may now expand freely. CCRM projects a 30 per cent annual growth rate for the field of regenerative medicine.

This radically new and different application of regenerative medicine has been used at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. By taking iPS cells and producing adult lung cells, the research holds the possibility to find treatments for cystic fibrosis and other lung diseases.

To transition the iPS cells from labs to practice, the CCRM is pushing the boundaries of regenerative medicine to include marketing. This step indicates that regenerative medicine is moving towards commercialization and away from being a dominantly research-based field.

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