Biomedical Engineering Student With CF Offers Perspective On How Regenerative Medicine Could Someday Treat the Disease

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by Reid D'Amico |

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Reid D’Amico is a biomedical engineering PhD student with Cystic Fibrosis. He is currently pursuing PhD research to combine both engineering and pulmonary research, an emerging branch of regenerative medicine that he believes could play a major role in next-generation CF therapy. Reid plans on contributing to Cystic Fibrosis News Today in a column that will highlight this novel approach to treating the disease.

While Marty McFly from the movie Back to the Future may be disappointed by how 2015 shaped up, we can’t be so quick to dismiss the sci-fi present within the field of medicine. I remember it quite well: my family and I were watching 60 Minutes on a Sunday night. It was the summer before my senior year of high school, and like most students, I actively avoided thinking about college applications and especially my potential major. However, when the title “Growing Body Parts” appeared on the screen, I couldn’t help but find myself dumbfounded.

How could someone actually grow organs from a few cells? After intently staring at the TV for that quick segment, I immediately got to researching. As a high school student, I was easily fascinated. I won awards at international science and engineering fairs because I had a great love for building machines from scratch, but even my hydroelectric turbine and plant microbial fuel cells paled in comparison to the awe manifested in those few short minutes. That same summer night, I decided that I was going to “grow body parts” or more specifically I was going to be a Biomedical Engineer. My hard-wiring for math and science was only the foundation that gave me this great revelation. For at the age of eleven years old, I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

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Let me introduce myself: My name is Reid D’Amico, and I’m a senior at Duke University. I study Biomedical Engineering with a focus in Tissue, Cellular, and Molecular Engineering. After I finish my undergraduate degree this May, I will be starting my PhD in Biomedical Engineering at Vanderbilt University. My undergraduate research focused on regenerative medicine applications of adipose-derived stem cells for tendon tissue engineering. As I prepare to head out to Nashville, I am overwhelmed with the opportunity that lies before me. As a cystic fibrosis patient, I can’t help but let my thoughts interact with the daunting disease that’s left me contemplating how fragile life can be. However, cystic fibrosis is where I plan to harness my power. As I venture into my PhD, I will be able to apply my personal experiences with cystic fibrosis to the field of tissue engineering.

Tissue engineering and regenerative medicine are changing how we approach treatments for those with diseases like cystic fibrosis. With a potential to fully heal damaged tissues and organs, regenerative medicine illuminates a new hope to those with conditions that are beyond repair. Much of the therapies present for cystic fibrosis aim to manage the condition through an arsenal of medications, but regenerative medicine has to potential to allow patients to use their own biological machinery to heal themselves within. In fact, the chronic damage accumulated by cystic fibrosis could be reversed.

There is much work to be done within the field of pulmonary tissue engineering, but I am swarmed with ineffable joy because this is where my passion and determination find harmony. Sorry, Marty McFly, there are no time traveling cars to report in 2015. Instead, science is heading full speed into a realm that is even more exciting.