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Regenerative medicine, the future of healthcare?

Non-transmissible disease has become a priority concern in India, as figures indicate higher death tolls amongst diseases such as kidney and heart failure than infectious diseases such as HIV. A potential avenue of suggested research is regenerative medicine. Some suggest that deaths through non-communicable disease will comprise three quarters of all deaths in India by 2030, indicating treatment and prevention methods need drastic revision to cope.

Regenerative medicine may provide a solution to the rapid surge in lifestyle related diseases. With regards to treatment, the most common form of regenerative medicine comes in the form of stem cell therapy.

The body is comprised of over 200 different types of specialised cells, from muscles to neurons. Each of these can be drastically different and fulfil a multitude of varying roles. Each type of cell line can be traced back to stem cells, unspecialised progenitor cells that are capable of the creation of more stem cells, as well as differentiation into more specialised cells. In the context of therapeutic application, stem cells may be inserted into damaged regions, in which they can proliferate into multiple specialised cells which in theory can replace lost tissue.

In various research institutes across India the concept of regeneration is becoming a trending topic. It is well established that while humans are capable of healing damage to the body, there are species across the animal kingdom capable of regenerating entire organs. In fifteen laboratories across India the zebrafish (Danio rerio) has become the subject of investigations over its ability to regenerate organs, including the heart and spinal cord.

The zebrafish is an ideal test subject due to its extensive use in the scientific world as a model organism used to study human diseases. The zebrafish genome has been mapped and so is regularly used in studies involving genetic manipulation. The focus of these studies have ranged from HOX genes, involved in axis formation during embryogenesis, allowing better understanding of the formation of bodily structures and organs; to a number of molecules established to be involved in heart regeneration.

The solution to the levels of non-communicable disease affecting the population may be more urgent than many would like to admit. The under 40s form around 25% of heart patients in India, probably because of a sedentary lifestyle within urban environments. With an ailing younger generation and an increased proportion of the population reaching old age, this presents both a medical and economic crisis .

Research such as this however could not only provide the solution to the health crisis, but put India at the forefront of research into regenerative medicine.


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