Of course, all of these are still small. But what they say is that the principle works—and because the principle works, then bigger things can be tackled.
What's next for regenerative medicine?
In my mind there are four [upcoming] areas for regenerative medicine: all things related to the mesenchymal stem cells; neural cells; the eye; and the last bucket—building in three dimensions, using a mixture of cells and structures.
What’s so special about mesenchymal cells?
They can expand a lot. They're found in sufficient amounts in the adult so that you can treat patients with their own cells—and avoid having to give powerful antirejection medication. Mesenchymal cells can be used, for example, to treat the heart, the blood vessels and Crohn's disease.
What's exciting about the neural cells is that this is the first that we've had access to cells from the central nervous system in the numbers that allow us to think about potential treatments.
As for the eye, we can do a lot of things in the eye now, and it’s been quite exciting. There have been several companies and clinical trials trying different things.
Several people are moving forward with treatments for both the wet and the dry macular degeneration. It’s new technology that's potentially disruptive.
And the fourth bucket?
The fourth bucket is like a mixture. The excitement here has been that we could always try to make three-dimensional tissue but it was never very good. But somebody had the idea that if we combined the structures with the cells, the cells would build the three-dimensional tissue for us.
Two big things I didn’t put in here: One is the heart and one is diabetes. Both are of huge interest. The only reason I didn’t put them higher on the list is that they are more like five to seven years away. The four buckets I just mentioned are less than five years off.