One important goal of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine is to develop and define technologies that will maintain, improve or even restore the function of diseased organs. The growing need for these technologies is substantial. Improved health care has resulted in an increased life span for the general population and, when coupled with a growing shortage of donor organs, makes it clear that organ assistance and substitution devices will play a larger role in managing patients with end-stage disease by providing a bridge to recovery or transplantation. (In the U.S. alone, the annual need for organ replacement therapies increases by about 10 percent each year.)The good news is that the field of medical device and artificial organ development is redefining what is believed to be possible for augmenting or replacing organ function. Once constructed only of synthetic components, these devices may now be either fully artificial or bioartificial- so-called “biohybrid organs” – a combination of biologic and synthetic components, often incorporating multiple technologies involving sensors, new biomaterials, and innovative delivery systems.
Some devices – such as the left ventricular assist device and bioartificial liver – will provide assistance while new therapies incorporating stem cells, gene therapy, or engineered tissues are employed to repair or replace the damaged organ. Until these new therapies can be developed and tested, medical devices will play a crucial role in facilitating organ recovery and, perhaps, organ salvage through natural repair mechanisms. Where organ recovery is not possible, artificial organs – when fully refined – will provide a substitute for natural organs.
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