Understanding Growth Factors in Regenerative Medicine

Understanding Growth Factors in Regenerative Medicine

Having a specific "recipe" with ideal amounts of growth factors for each type of injury could enhance healing and is an important goal for the field of regenerative medicine. More research, however, is needed to fully understand this process.

Photo: The Horse Staff

Although stem cells were discovered more than a century ago, only in the past decade have horses begun to benefit from regenerative medicine. And like all medical techniques in their infancy, stem cell therapy remains a somewhat crude technology, despite its apparent success so far. There is likely to be more to regenerative medicine than simply harvesting, proliferating, and re-injecting stem cells, researchers reported at the 2011 North American Veterinary Regenerative Medicine Conference held June 2-4 in Lexington, Ky. A better understanding of growth factors released from platelets, for instance, might enhance healing.

"In addition to providing new cells, regenerative therapies like stem cells and platelet-rich plasma need to renew tissue architecture," emphasized platelet-rich plasma researcher Jamie Textor, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, and PhD candidate in the Regenerative Medicine Laboratory at the University of California, Davis', William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. "Growth factors and an appropriate 'matrix', or scaffold, are also important."

Growth factors are found in high concentrations in platelets and influence cell division (proliferation) and migration (into a wound to assist with healing), for example. These growth factors are released from the platelets (the body's "first responders" that aid in blood clot formation) at the site of injury.

Textor explained that the cells involved in healing, growth factors, and a matrix are all components of the regenerative "triad" imperative to truly achieving regenerative medicine.

For instance, in natural wounds platelets contain large amounts of growth factors that are released when a clot forms. This natural clot forms a scaffold, or base, for the growth factors and other cells and mediators that reconstruct the injured tissue, rather than there simply being a "soup" of unorganized healing. An organized scaffold provides a physical anchor for cells to adhere to and migrate along, stimulates cell growth, and helps direct modeling of the injured tissue during healing.

"If we are able to identify the ideal growth factor concentration and matrix composition for different types of injuries then we can 'customize a clot' specially designed for specific injuries that athletic horses suffer," explained Textor.

Having a specific "recipe" with ideal amounts of growth factors for each type of injury could enhance healing and is an important goal for the field of regenerative medicine. More research, however, is needed to fully understand this process.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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