The triumverate of cells, scaffolds and growth factors is what animates the field of Regenerative Medicine. Various combinations of these components are allowing researchers and physicians to target such tissue for repair as the cornea, the retina, the trachea, the bladder, bone, the heart and of course articular cartilage. There is little doubt that the principles of Regenerative Medicine either are or will soon be applied to all tissues, thus transforming the scope of medicine during the 21st century. The toolbox is getting bigger.
Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) affords a ready method of using the patient’s own proteins, contained in the platelets, to activate cells; these are the growth factors I am referring to. Platelets are pieces of of cell, without a nucleus, and they derive from a special cell in the bone marrow called a megakaryocyte. The mother cell invests each platelet with over a thousand proteins, and these proteins are the signals by which other cells are activated; that is how a wound or laceration is made to heal.
Although the process is not fully understood, some of the important proteins in PRP include TGF Beta and Platelet Derived growth Factor, and there are many more. In the lab, these proteins are impressive activators of DNA synthesis. Simply put, they turn on the factory that is the cell, and then the cell makes more proteins…including cartilage matrix.
On the horizon now- even closer than that- is the prospect of combining these growth factors with cells and scaffolds to make a unified tissue repair product. In order to accomplish this we will have to standardize the amount of growth factor needed and to devise a method of delivering it to the cells at precisely the correct time. This is well within the ability of the medical device field.