BIOLOGICAL SCAFFOLDING: A cell (center) is embedded in a framework of tissue fibers. By removing the cells and implanting the remaining structure, surgeons may coax the body to grow its own replacement organs. Image: Bryan Christie
- The emerging field of regenerative medicine may one day revolutionize the treatment of heart disease and neurodegenerative disorders, solve the organ donor shortage problem, and completely restore damaged muscles, tendons and other tissues.
- The key, researchers are learning, is to give the body a kind of starter kit—made of various proteins, fibers or cells—or to clone extra copies of the semispecialized stem cells that are already found in adult patients and to allow the body to take over from there.
- The extra help allows the body to regrow tissues of the type or in the amount that it normally could not do by itself. Already such self-healing treatments have somewhat rejuvenated a few patients' ailing hearts and helped surgeons repair injured muscles.
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For years biologists were so focused on the internal workings of cells that they pretty much ignored the “glue” that holds those cells together in a body, human or otherwise. And yet once researchers started looking deeper into the stuff between cells, known as the extracellular matrix, they began to realize just how dynamic the whole arrangement is. Not only does the overlooked matrix provide the biological scaffolding necessary to keep animal tissues and organs from dissolving into a gooey mess, but it also releases molecular signals that, among other things, help the body heal itself.
This article was originally published with the title The Super Glue Cure.