Education today

Regenerative medicine is the ability to repair and/or replace body tissues and organs through stem cell therapies and tissue engineering. Despite the relative infancy of the field, the explosion in technology and demand has created a hotbed of innovation. As a multidisciplinary field, regenerative medicine attracts minds from fields including engineers, business, molecular science, and even healthcare, among others. The ability to apply current and future technology to improve quality of life and reduce disease-burden attracts the best and brightest minds.

Many universities across Canada have identified regenerative medicine as a highly complex field with great potential. As such, they offer training programs for students passionate about the field to learn the intricacies. For example, programs offered at the University of Toronto in biomedical engineering provide a gateway for tissue engineering. Additional programs in stem cell biology, nanotechnology, genetics, and even bioethics provide a foundation upon which one can build a career in regenerative medicine.

Clarifying misconceptions

However, with any innovative idea comes controversy, and regenerative medicine is no different. A fiery political and ethical debate surrounds the field, largely with the use of embryonic stem cells. It is often (and wrongly) stated that embryonic stem cells are harvested from unwanted pregnancies. In Canada, such actions are explicitly illegal. In 2002, laws were created to protect the ethical values of informed consent and non-coercion. As such, the embryonic stem cells often used are byproducts of in-vitro fertilization reproductive technology that would otherwise be discarded as biomedical waste.

"As a multidisciplinary field, regenerative medicine attracts minds from fields including engineers, business, molecular science, and even healthcare, among others."

In addition to lawful protection of our societal values, many individual in the field have turned to a new discovery to sidestep the ethical debate surrounding embryonic stem cells: induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). This fascinating discovery, which was the foundation of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Medicine, involves turning adult body cells into precursor stem cells, and then directing the cells down an alternate pathway to become a cell with a different function. Imagine a single skin cell being used to recreate a completely different part of the body: heart tissue, neural tissue, lung tissue, etc. The implications of this are currently limitless!

The next generation

Regenerative medicine is an exciting endeavor at this point in history, and it attracts a range of individuals in many careers. Many university organizations now have student groups which aim to educate the community on the potential of regenerative medicine, and to inspire a generation of innovators who may change the way we think of disease and recovery. These organizations are providing young adults the opportunity to network with researchers in regenerative medicine, where they can learn first-hand the opportunities in the field. Students are encouraged to learn more about regenerative medicine because without awareness, potential remains untapped, voices remain unheard, and progress halts at a stagnant limbo.

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