The End of Trial-and-Error Medicine

Today, when you go to the doctor to have something looked at or treated — anything from a stuffy nose to a broken arm to a cancer diagnosis — your doctor will inevitably follow the same standardized treatment process that doctors around the world use for each patient they see with that particular condition.

If you’ve got a sinus infection, for instance, maybe they’ll start you off with an antibiotic — a good antibiotic, one they’ve found works on 75% of people. That’s not a bad place to start — these treatment processes have been tested and refined over the years to help as many people as possible. But the problem with putting everyone on the same treatment plan is that not all people are the same.

Maybe you’re part of the 25% of people whose bodies don’t respond well to that particular antibiotic. Or perhaps you experience uncommon side effects from the antibiotic that are worse than the condition itself. Or maybe you’re allergic to antibiotics altogether. So, you and your doctor try something else. And something else. And hopefully, eventually, you do find a treatment that works for you. Only, getting to that point might mean you had to try a lot of treatments — which means extra appointments, additional wait times, more potential side effects, and added costs. And all the while, you’ve still got that stuffy nose!

And that’s just for starters. A sinus infection is an inconvenience; but what if you were grappling with something really serious, like cancer,? Then, the uncertainty and waiting could have major consequences.

This standardized treatment process — called “trial-and-error medicine” — is usually good at eventually finding you a solution that works, but it’s the “eventually” that we at Orig3n find frustrating. “We’ve all gone through this,” says Robin Smith, CEO of Orig3n. “The multiple doctor visits. The long, drawn-out recovery process. We believe there has to be a better way.”

Medical treatments made personal

One of the most exciting things about our research into regenerative medicine is that it opens up the possibility of more personalized forms of treatment. Most of the work we’re doing here at Orig3n involves special types of cells called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells. Using a small sample of blood (just a teaspoon!), we reprogram those blood cells into iPS cells using Nobel-Prize-winning technology . We can take those iPS cells and transform them into virtually any other type of cell that exists in the body — heart cells, brain cells, liver cells, and more.

“What’s really interesting,” says Smith, “is that when we create these cells from a person’s donated blood, even though they exist outside of their body, they exhibit many of the same characteristics as the living cells inside of them. For instance, if we use your iPS cells to create heart cells, those cells actually have the ability to beat at the same rate as your own heartbeat! Which I know sounds totally crazy. But it’s true!”

The ability to model a particular individual’s unique physical responses outside of their body creates a whole new set of possibilities. “Let’s say you have a genetically inherited cardiac disorder, like Long QT Syndrome, which makes your heart beat irregularly,” says Smith. “Any heart cells we create from your sample will beat with that same arrhythmia. Which means we can now test different treatments — or even entirely new drugs — on those heart cells first. This will allow us to see ahead of time what’s actually going to have the best chance of helping you, or if there are any side effects, before testing anything on you as a person.”

The end of one era; the start of another

The ability to work with a person’s own cells outside of their body will make it much easier to quickly zero in on the best treatment for each particular patient. That means new opportunities to deliver better outcomes, with less suffering, waiting, and hassle. Fewer trials, fewer errors.

And it’s happening sooner than you’d think. The Orig3n research team is tapping into the power of iPS cells to develop advanced regenerative treatments in which a person’s organs and tissues can be rejuvenated. As we work to advance the field of regenerative medicine, it’s only a matter of time until personalized medicine becomes the norm. We’ve already created the world’s largest cell bank dedicated to the development of regenerative medicine therapies, which we’re now using to drive our research.

In time, we hope to usher in a healthier future in which everyone has access to better, more personalized treatments. To learn more about the work we’re doing with regenerative medicine — and what you can do to help — check this out.