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Reconstructing the face using stem cells

Cell and tissue engineering is a rapidly accelerating field that draws on expertise in areas such as biotechnology, biomaterials, and biomedical technology to offer new solutions to old problems. One of the leaders in the field is the Regea Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Regea Institute for Regenerative Medicine

Heart attacks, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, and many other diseases, together with accidents and injuries, result in tissue defects that can be hard to treat using current medical treatments. Many cases simply cannot be treated by any form of modern medicine. Those that can, require patients’ own tissue and/or biomaterials or steel, and give mixed results in terms of functionality.

The research work undertaken at Regea – such as that on the development of differentiation methods and growth environments related to heart muscle cells seen here – is aimed at developing clinical applications to improve patients’ quality of life and reduce the costs associated with difficult-to-treat diseases and trauma.

Stem cell treatment is set to change this and become standard practice in many areas of clinical care in the future, with patients receiving an organ or tissue grown from their own stem cells rather than a conventional organ or tissue transplant. Another alternative will be to use stem cells from a tissue bank. 

A new upper jaw

Finland is a leader in stem cell research, and the Regea Institute for Regenerative Medicine a leader in cell and tissue engineering and related clinical applications.

Regea focuses on stem cell research for bone and cartilage, nerves, the heart, and eyes; and has provided stem cell therapy for patients suffering from bone defects in their facial skeleton, in collaboration with Tampere University Hospital and Helsinki University Central Hospital.

A patient recently received a new upper jaw made by combining the patient’s own stem cells with biomaterials, for example. New bone tissue was formed inside the patient’s abdominal muscle and then transplanted to the defect area using microvascular surgery.

Safe donated tissue will continue to be needed to repair damaged tissue until stem cell treatment progresses further, which is why Regea maintains an extensive tissue bank. The advanced cleanroom facilities and high operating standards of the Regea Tissue Bank ensure the safety of the tissue concerned, which mainly consists of bone, tendons, cornea, and amniotic membrane at the moment.

The Regea Institute for Regenerative Medicine was founded in 2004 as a joint initiative by the University of Tampere, Tampere University of Technology, Pirkanmaa Hospital District, Pirkanmaa University of Applied Sciences, and the Coxa Hospital for Joint Replacement.

Administered by the University of Tampere and employing about 80 people, Regea specialises in research on cell and tissue engineering, with a particular focus on stem cell research and combining stem cells and biomaterials. Processing and supplying tissue for clinical use, in full compliance with national legislation and EU directives, is handled by the Regea Tissue Bank.

> Tiia Tallinen
(Published in HighTech Finland 2009)