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Replaceable You: Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering

By Stanford Continuing Studies Program

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The good part about getting older is that we gain some wisdom and patience. The bad part is that our bodies (knees, hips, organs, and more) start to wear out. But what if our bodies could be "reprogrammed" to grow new parts? The new field of regenerative medicine is trying to do just that, and it takes advantage of the process of regeneration, which is nature’s solution for repairing damaged tissues. Although humans cannot re-grow their limbs like salamanders and newts can, the capacity to regenerate injured or diseased tissues exists in humans and other animals, and the molecular machinery for regeneration seems to be an elemental part of our genetic makeup. The prevailing opinion is that the genes responsible for regeneration have for some reason fallen into disuse, and they may be "jump started" by the selective activation of key molecules. Using this knowledge, scientists are developing new strategies to repair and, in some cases, regenerate damaged or diseased tissues in both young and old patients. In this course, we will explore the exciting field of regenerative medicine and learn a little about what makes stem cells so special. We will also discuss some of the recent discoveries that can potentially allow us to be fit and healthy well into old age. Here, you will learn what is merely science fiction and what, remarkably, has become science fact in our new medical age.