Imagine having replacement skin, cartilage, bones, tissue and even organs immediately to your disposal, grown out of cultivated cells and biomaterials. It's not science fiction: scientists, engineers and doctors are expecting to implement several of these solutions within the next coming years. In our region, researchers are working on a scenario to create the first implant made out of living tissue as we speak.
On Thursday 14 September, Brightlands, the Province of Flemish Brabant, RegMed and RegMedXB organised a Visionary Seminar on what visions drive research and valorisation efforts in regenerative medicine. The Seminar was held in Maastricht in the Netherlands and brought together about 70 experts from several different regions.
After a pitch and match, talks were held on the cooperation between Flanders and the Dutch province of Limburg on a cross-border hot spot for regenerative medicine, as well as panel discussions on the regenerative medicine ecosystem by professors Clemens van Blitterswijk and Frank Luyten among others, as well as digital regeneration.
This is a new branch in healthcare involving the repairing and growing of new tissues and organs or replace those tissues or organs not functioning 100% due to age, disease, damage, or a congenital condition. This field holds the promise of regenerating damaged tissues using "cell therapies."
The hope in regenerative medicine is that physicians and scientists will be able to grow tissues and whole organs in the laboratory and safely implant them when the body cannot heal itself. This addresses the huge clinical need that cannot be met by transplantation, because the availability of donor organs meets only a minute fraction of the need.
Expectation is that in just two to five years, we'll see the first replacement implants for skin, cartilage and bone. In about five to ten years, the first tissue and organ material will be ready to repair or even replace organs such as the heart and kidneys. Even further down the road, in twenty years, the shortage of transplant organs can be resolved by simply 'ordering' them. Testing new medicine will also be easier on these organs, available to laboratories across the world.
Cooperation is the key to succes. There is not a single university, hospital or company that houses all of the necessary knowledge and practice to take the next steps all by itself. Supported by the Province of Flemish-Brabant, all involved regional organisations started RegMed, an innovation platform for regenerative medicine. By doing so, over twenty partners from the same field draw out the next steps, acting as one and assuring the leading role of our region. The platform also actively looks for international cooperations with other regions who bank on regenerative medicine, such as the Dutch province of Limburg.
Several Leuven MindGate members have joined RegMed. Materialise and 3D Systems are two 3D printing organisations from Leuven who already make 3D printed implants. Imec is developing a lens-free microscope which makes the 'breeding' of cells easier and more affordable. Researchers of KU Leuven's knowledge platform Prometheus, who are specialised in cell cultivation and combining biomaterials to create bone tissue, are working on a scenario to create the first implant made out of living tissue. Another world's first waiting to happen in our region.