CA: Ted Evanoff: Chinese scientists mull new medical technique in Memphis
Let’s say you bruise your kidney in a car wreck at age 30 and the damage persists. Ten years later you need a transplant.
What if you could get the bruised kidney to fix itself right after the wreck?
You’d never need a transplant.
You’d never need a new kidney.
Put your own body to work at damage control and it can get your kidney to run good as new.
That’s what the scientists in Memphis at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center have aimed for.
It’s called regenerative medicine.
And it’s about kidneys, most other organs and arteries.
On Wednesday, UT scientists talked over the subject with fellow scientist Y. James Kang, a visiting entrepreneur from China.
Kang said UT Memphis, Medtronic, FedEx overnight delivery and his firm’s patents might someday put the city at the leading edge of regenerative medicine, a new industry able to help accident victims and all kinds of other people.
“We’re facing an aging population around the world. What does that person need? It is a high quality of life,” Kang said. “That’s my priority.”
Let’s back up.
Kang, age 60, grew up in China and lives there today.
He is affiliated with Sichuan University West China Hospital in Chengdu, a city of 14 million people located 1,100 miles southwest of Beijing.
Steven Goodman is the vice chancellor for research at 4,000-employee UTHSC and lives in Memphis.
He was hired in 2015 to do just this: Build up the research capacity at UT Memphis, which is completing a $450 million expansion and renovation on its campus near Downtown.
Kang and Goodman both are officers in a professional organization, the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine, and Goodman is chief editor of its journal. They’ve known each other for years and Goodman has invited him to lecture in Memphis, home to UT’s largest medical school.
Twenty-one years ago, Kang, who then had degrees from a university in Beijing and Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, was in his lab after hours toying with mice.
His hobby gave him an insight. Graft good cells to a damaged artery and the cells with just a bit of encouragement would on their own grow a new artery.
Before he could use the insight on people he’d need to refine it on monkeys, whose organs are similar to human organs. He relocated far from Beijing to Chengdu, a prime source of monkeys for medical experiments, and focused on the research.
Three years ago in Chengdu he opened a new business aimed expressly at regenerating arteries in humans. The business, Sichuan Revotek Co., then opened a New York office and applied for patents in the United States. Kang is the chief executive officer of Revotek. He said the main financial backer is Sichuan Languang Development Co., an 8,000-employee real estate developer in Chengdu.
You may not have heard of 3D printers. But the idea is simple. Program a controller on the printer to produce, say, a coffee mug, and feed it enough raw material, and the printer will tap out a perfect cup.
Instead of a mug, Revotek’s printer taps out arteries. Instead of ink, the machine uses the patient’s own stem cells, which have the capacity to renew themselves, and which the body tends not to reject.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to open way in June for Revotek to try the process on humans in a controlled experiment known as clinical trials, Kang said.
Rather than try to patent a completely new medicine, Revotek applied for an investigational new drug patent, which seeks to combine existing drugs already approved for use.
“This is a smart way to get into clinical trials,” said Stephania Cormier, UTHSC associate vice chancellor for research, global partnerships, noting the investigational applications tend to get approved more quickly.
What Revotek does with arteries, Kang’s other 3D biotech startup, Innolife, intends to do with organs.
This isn’t something we’ll see reach the market in a few months.
Cormier figures it can take 10 years to reach full output.
On Wednesday, Goodman, Kang and UT executives sketched all this out in Goodman’s office at 910 Madison.
Eventually it could lead to something like the Memphis Institute of Regenerative Medicine.
Today, scientists focus heavily on regenerative medicine at Beijing, Boston, Chengdu, Wake Forest University and in the state of California, which used public funds to advance the research.
But there is no commercial center as of yet, although a few 3D biotech companies have sprung up, including Organovo, a San Diego firm which last year said it transplanted human liver-tissue into mice. And consumer products giant Johnson & Johnson has allied with Tissue Regenerative Systems of Plymouth, Michigan.
Kang said he thinks there may never be one commercial center in the United States in part because regenerative medicine promises to be so prolific it could become a global industry with 1 billion employees.
Although nearly 120,000 human organs, chiefly kidneys, are transplanted each year in the United States, regenerating organs could be a larger industry. Like the example of the kidney bruised in the car wreck, patients would seek stem cell therapy as soon as a flaw was detected in the organ.
That may not mean lifespans will reach 100 years as people replenish their organs. But it could mean more quality of life and length of life.
“The truth is we can replace organs, but it’s not very effective, ” Goodman said. “If you can come in for treatment (of a damaged organ), I don’t see how you can avoid increasing the life span.”