UF's new Center for Regenerative Medicine seen as "potential game-changer"

Keith L. March, M.D.

Keith L. March, M.D., believes the center’s work could change the face of medicine.


By Bill Levesque

The University of Florida has launched a Center for Regenerative Medicine to develop lifesaving therapies “to heal the body from within” using stem cells that repair damaged tissue and organs.

The center is led by Keith L. March, M.D., Ph.D., a cardiologist and national leader in regenerative medicine whom the university recently recruited from the Indiana University School of Medicine.

“The future of health care is to find methods of permitting our bodies to regenerate damaged organs,” said Robert Hromas, M.D., FACP, who recently left his position as chair of the UF College of Medicine’s department of medicine to take a post at the University of Texas San Antonio. “The center will emphasize a collaborative spirit across discipline and specialty lines by fostering work without silos. This will allow us to ultimately bring leading-edge therapies from the bench to the bedside.”

The center will guide the collaboration of existing UF Health researchers while recruiting additional scientists and leveraging expertise from the university’s six health colleges, the UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute, the UF College of Engineering and the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“We have a great many people with great abilities and interests at UF,” said March. “So, we are hoping to harness that talent and tackle disease-specific targets. We have opportunities to develop therapies for multiple diseases and, hopefully, if some of them work, or even if one of them works, we’ll have changed the face of medicine.”

Regenerative medicine can be encapsulated in two words — self-healing. Rather than simply treating the symptoms of disease, trauma or congenital illness, the key to regenerative medicine is to rescue, repair or even replace damaged tissue or organs, thereby avoiding expensive and risky interventions such as surgery or long-term medication use.

We all have stem cells. The beauty and remarkable ability of stem cells is that some can be spurred to develop into tissue- or organ-specific cells, serving as dutiful workers repairing the broken machinery of our bodies while others work as smart “factories,” producing biologic agents that rescue and repair diseased organs.

Already used widely in bone marrow transplants, regenerative medicine holds promise in specialties as diverse as cardiology, geriatrics, orthopedics and neurology, to name a few. Research has been ongoing for decades.

But it has been the unrelenting march of basic science and clinical research in recent years, leading to advances in cell biology, immunology and other fields, that has opened new possibilities to extend its reach.

“It’s an exciting time to be involved in regenerative medicine,” March said. “It’s a potential game-changer in medicine that will have a positive impact on so many lives.”

March also has worked on the key insight that stem cells’ natural role is to repair vascular damage, allowing blood vessels to grow and enhance the blood supply.

“As one of the nation’s top researchers in regenerative medicine,” Hromas said, “Dr. March is well-positioned to lead the center to lifesaving discoveries and breakthroughs in fundamental science that will establish UF as an innovative research hub in this field and a destination
for patients.”