Reflections on the 7th Annual International Symposium on Regenerative Rehabilitation
Author: Andy Tay Kah Ping, PhD (Postdoctoral Scholar, Stanford University)
Seven years ago, I had a traffic accident which fractured my left arm. As I gained more understanding of the challenges to regenerate (bone) tissues, I could not help but feel amazed how physical therapies involving simple twisting and turning restored my strength and mobility after only two months. This incident planted the first seed of my curiosity on the scientific link between regeneration and rehabilitation.
Although we know plenty about the role of biophysical forces on stem cell differentiation and cellular processes such as signaling, much of this knowledge has not been translated to practical applications in the clinic to benefit patients.
I find myself extremely fortunate to have been offered a travel fellowship to attend the 7th Annual International Symposium on Regenerative Rehabilitation where I learned about both the fields of regenerative medicine and physical rehabilitation, and ways to create synergies between them.
Through this meeting, I realized that scientists in both fields have plenty to offer and to learn from each other. For instance, in the field of physical rehabilitation, there is insufficient use of molecular and cellular technologies such as transcriptomics to understand the mechanism of biomechanical forces on tissue regeneration. On the other hand, researchers working on regenerative medicine need to know current practices and protocols in clinics, and how their research can be more readily adopted. It is only with collaboration and mutual learning that we can translate scientific knowledge to benefit patients.
Another personal lesson from this meeting is that in the field of regenerative medicine, we might have taken an overly reductionist approach for tissue regeneration. The reductionist approach refers to a method where we try to identify a single or small group of parameters contributing to a phenomenon. During the symposium, I sat through presentations by researchers coming from angles such as diet, exercises, physical therapies, stem cells and biomaterials. While they have all made progress in their respective niches, the regenerative medicine field as a whole has not progressed as rapidly as we’d hoped (or expected). Personally, I feel that future advances require a systems approach that considers multiple factors including age and fitness level to tackle tissue regeneration. Such systems approach can be facilitated with large patient databases and machine learning algorithms.
It is ironic that after this meeting, I left with more questions than answers. However, I believe this is what an intellectually stimulating meeting should be. This symposium has exposed me to new ideas that I had not considered before. I hope to return next year to provide answers for some of the questions I have taken away from the symposium!