Early in his career as a pediatric and transplant surgeon-scientist, Joseph P. Vacanti, M.D., was motivated by the problem of organ shortage for his tiny patients. It has led to a career long pursuit in solving the problem of organ availability for babies and young children.
In an early case, finding a liver the right size for an infant was a daunting task. The use of a reduced-size graft in a pediatric recipient had its own risks. When determined parents asked about the statistical risks to “do all that could be done,” Dr. Vacanti had to reply that there were no statistics. The procedure had never been done.
Dr. Vacanti began the nation's first liver transplantation program specifically for the pediatric population in the early 1980s at Children’s Hospital Boston. As it became apparent that donor organs would continue to be in short supply, he embarked on the field of tissue engineering.
Dr. Vacanti talked about the continuing challenge of insufficient tissue availability in his presentation, “The Clinician-Scientist and Regenerative Medicine/Tissue Engineering” at the George M. Eisenberg Foundation Lecture on Regenerative Medicine at Mayo Clinic recently. Dr. Vacanti is the co-director for the Center for Regenerative Medicine and the director for the Laboratory for Tissue Engineering and Organ Fabrication at the Massachusetts General Hospital. He serves as the Chief, Department of Pediatric Surgery, and is the John Homans Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School.
A pioneer of tissue engineering, Dr. Vacanti emphasized the need to create living replacement structures and to build new organs to replace tissue destroyed by disease or congenital conditions. Dr. Vacanti said the most efficient road to human therapy in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering is combining biology with technology. Incorporating manufacturing practices and quality controls in tissue engineering will drive costs down.
At Mayo Clinic, the Center for Regenerative Medicine Biotrust, the Human Cell Therapy Laboratory, the Biomaterials and Biomolecules Facility, and the Advanced Product Incubator are the four clinical facilities that comprise the Regenerative Medicine Platforms. Mayo Clinic is actively engaged in numerous clinical trials in regenerative and restorative therapies. Clinical trials are ongoing in several areas of care including neuroscience, cancer care, cardiovascular, face and hand transplant, and musculoskeletal. Mayo Clinic teams are advancing regenerative medicine techniques that repair damaged tissue and restore health by harnessing the body’s ability to heal itself.