How Winston-Salem is Becoming a Hub for Regenerative Medicine

4 minute read


What if life-saving treatments didn’t depend on the availability of donor organs or finding a compatible match? What if we could renew the functionality of dysfunctional or diseased cells, tissues or organs through new growth and cell production?

These “what ifs” are just a glimpse of the ideas that drive regenerative medicine researchers and scientists around the world, even in Winston-Salem’s Innovation Quarter.

What is Regenerative Medicine?

Regenerative medicine is a medical field dedicated to developing treatments and therapies that help regrow, repair or replace tissues and organs. It’s a blend of engineering and life sciences that promotes growth based on stem cells. Such practices have been studied for their potential to treat conditions caused by disease, trauma, age or defect.

History of Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine

In 2004, Dr. Anthony Atala was recruited from Boston Children’s Hospital to spearhead the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) in Winston-Salem. He and approximately 20 team members came to work in just a few lab spaces on a single floor of the Innovation Quarter’s Richard H. Dean Biomedical Research Building. Today, WFIRM occupies 100% of the five-story building—a testament to the institution’s steadfast growth.

WFIRM’s Mission and Goal

As the largest regenerative medicine facility in the world, WFIRM is committed to turning research into remedies. It develops replacement tissues and organs with the ultimate goal of healing patients rather than simply treating their conditions. To date, its researchers have successfully engineered replacement tissues and organs in flat structures, tubular tissues, hollow organs and solid organs.

(A Few) Notable Accomplishments

Since its foundation, WFIRM has become the first to create a lab-grown organ and implant it in a patient. The world-renowned firsts don’t stop there. It was also the first to:

  • Show that complex, layered tissue structures can be engineered from cells.
  • Send a tissue-engineered product to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for Phase 1 approval for clinical applications.
  • Implant solely biomaterials into patients to regenerate organs without adding cells.
  • Create a functional experimental solid organ.
  • Prove it was possible to print replacement living tissue structures and develop a one-of-a-kind 3D bioprinter.
  • Recycle donor organs to engineer functional experimental organs.
Dried, stained, and preserved organs at the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine
Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine proprietary 3-D bioprinter
3-D printed cartilages and joint fixtures

The Future of Regenerative Medicine

The US Department of Health and Human Services considers regenerative medicine the “next evolution of medical treatments.” The key to fulfilling that legacy will be successfully scaling its research and developments.

“We have many challenges to meet but are optimistic about the ability of the field to have a significant impact on human health. We believe regenerative medicine promises to be one of the most pervasive influences on public health in the modern era.” —Dr. Anthony Atala, WFIRM Director

Winston-Salem’s Role

Young-Joon Seol Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) demonstrates Bioprinting muscle tissue, Richard H. Dean Biomedical Building (A1).

Winston-Salem is uniquely positioned to help expedite the delivery of life-saving, regenerative medicine technology to patients through its resources, partners and proximity to both. The city’s innovation ecosystem is comprised of a mix of academic, research and enterprise organizations that create an environment equipped for evolution.

  • Wake Forest University School of Medicine and WFIRM: These organizations have been ceaseless leaders in translating regenerative medicine discoveries into clinical therapies. They’re directly advancing the field with their own technologies but are also taking steps to support others by sharing talents, resources and ideas.
  • The RegenMed Development Organization (ReMDO): Headquartered in Winston-Salem, this non-profit is dedicated to morphing biotechnology innovation and business to get treatments to patients faster. The organization provides companies with space, equipment, expertise and talent to support regenerative medicine manufacturing scale-up and automation.
  • Regenerative medicine companies: Axiom Space, MiMedx and others have a physical presence in Winston-Salem’s Innovation Quarter, where they can take advantage of the expertise and equipment available to them.
  • The Innovation Quarter: To accommodate its rapidly expanding community, the Innovation Quarter’s Phase II development plan will bring more lab, office and residential spaces.

Join the Hub

Winston-Salem has the academic institutions scientists, entrepreneurs, leaders, investors, talent and worldwide connections to bring regenerative medicine ideas to life and turn them into globally accessible treatments. Whether you need a test bed to prototype an emerging regenerative medicine technology or strategic advice on market validation and budgeting, Winston-Salem has the space—and support—for you.

Cover of eBook: Why the Future of Regenerative Medicine is in Winston-Salem

The Future of Regenerative Medicine Is in Winston-Salem

Winston-Salem’s Innovation Quarter represents the convergence of ideas, research, resources and expertise. The resulting innovation ecosystem fosters developments in regenerative medicine that are transforming clinical treatments and therapies.