How the Lizard Got Its Tail Back

Regenerative medicine has been called the next evolution in medical treatment. But I like to think of the procedure as something I witnessed as a child.

That’s because, essentially, regenerative medicine is the process of how all those lizards I used to catch as a child could lose their tail one day and have a new one back in a week or two. Now, through tissue engineering, scientists are learning how to duplicate that process and at the same time help wounded warriors who lost limbs in combat, amputees, burn victims, and other patients who are in need of a limb or an organ.

At times, the idea of growing skin or limbs in a lab may sound creepy. But it is also fascinating. In fact, the commonly used phrase “medical miracle” probably isn’t too far off.

The director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Dr. Anthony Atala, says while there are plenty of challenges to meet in the field of regenerative medicine treatments, he’s optimistic about the ability to have a significant impact on human health.

WFIRM is part of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. The doctors and scientists at WFIRM were the first in the world to engineer laboratory-grown organs and then successfully implant them in humans. From there, the researchers are working to engineer more than 30 different replacement tissues and organs as well as develop healing cell therapies. The ultimate goal, says Dr. Atala, is to cure disease rather than treat or manage it.

“We believe regenerative medicine promises to be one of the most pervasive influences on public health in the modern era,” adds Dr. Atala.

- Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

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