At the Lab Bench in the World of Regenerative Medicine Research (Part III)
The potential of regenerative medicine to unlock new treatments, both preventative and curative, is powerful. This is why scientists study regeneration- to improve the lives of all people living with diseases, illnesses and conditions. But where do regenerative medicine scientists start? What questions are they seeking the answers to advance our progress towards such treatments? Regenerative medicine research generally focuses on understanding:
- The molecular, cellular and physiological mechanisms of stem cells
- How cells grow and die
- What makes stem cells differentiate into other cells
- The supporting structure between stem cells and other cells
Investigating these key principles often involves studying the differences between cells that do regenerate and those that do not, in hopes of finding the keys that can unlock the hidden ability of regeneration. This knowledge is essential in the development of regenerative medicine treatments.
“As regenerative medicine can be applied to many different systems and parts of the body, from the immune system to the brain, regenerative medicine research does not take one, singular form.”
The breath of regenerative medicine research
As regenerative medicine can be applied to many different systems and parts of the body, from the immune system to the brain, regenerative medicine research does not take one, singular form. Instead, regenerative medicine research encompasses a broad range of scientific disciplines (from molecular biology and genetics to immunology and biochemistry) and involves many different tools and techniques (including studying genes a.k.a genomics and proteins a.k.a proteomics). This means that regenerative medicine researchers can have many different scientific backgrounds and areas of expertise. At ARMI, we have scientists focusing on the heart, the musculoskeletal system, the immune system and the brain, combining aspects of engineering, bioinformatics and synthetic biology.
However, one of the most important regenerative medicine research tools we have in the lab is stem cells and animal models, such as the zebrafish and axolotl, that have an amazing capacity for regeneration. For example, the zebrafish has the unique ability to repair its own heart. It is hoped that studying this process will one day provide scientists with a way of restoring the human heart when it is damaged from disease, injury or an underlying condition. Many of the research groups at ARMI use zebrafish as a model organism. Zebrafish have become such an integral part of research at ARMI that they have their own facility dedicated to the supply, maintenance and care of zebrafish. This facility is the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere. These tools enable scientists to ask and answer the fundamental questions in regenerative medicine, as well as determine the safety and efficacy of new regenerative medicine drugs and treatments.
“At ARMI, we have scientists focusing on the heart, the musculoskeletal system, the immune system and the brain, combining aspects of engineering, bioinformatics and synthetic biology.”
Regenerative medicine research in Australia
Currently, regenerative medicine research in Australia is particularly strong. In this field, Australia ranks 10th in global publications (and 2nd when adjusted for population) and has contributed to many significant breakthroughs, including conducting some of the world’s first human stem cell trials. A quarter of Australia’s 42 universities and almost two-thirds of the country’s 70 medical research institutes have a strong focus on regenerative medicine, with over 300 groups comprised of approximately 1,200 researchers.
Driving this has been the support from the Australian government, particularly with funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), and other specific grants. Since 2016, regenerative medicine research has received $AUD32 million in NHMRC funding annually. Monash University, as the home of ARMI, is unsurprisingly one of the largest recipients of funding support, with $AUD150 million of grants for stem cell research alone since 2001.