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Cell communication is central to the integration of cell function required for the development and homeostasis of multicellular animals. Proteins are an important currency of cell communication, acting locally (auto-, juxta-, or paracrine) or systemically (endocrine). The fibroblast growth factor (FGF) family contributes to the regulation of virtually all aspects of development and organogenesis, and after birth to tissue maintenance, as well as particular aspects of organism physiology. In the West oncology has been the focus of translation of FGF research, whereas in China and to an extent Japan a major focus has been to use FGFs in repair and regeneration settings. These differences have their roots in research history and aims. The Chinese drive into biotechnology and the delivery of engineered clinical grade FGFs by a major Chinese research group were important enablers in this respect. The Chinese language clinical literature is not widely accessible. To put this into context, we provide the essential molecular and functional background to the FGF communication system covering FGF ligands, the heparan sulfate and Klotho co-receptors and FGF receptor (FGFR) tyrosine kinases. We then summarise a selection of case reports that demonstrate the efficacy of engineered recombinant FGF ligands in treating a wide range of conditions that require tissue repair / regeneration. Alongside the functional reasons why application of exogenous FGF ligands does not lead to cancers are described. Together, this highlights that the FGF ligands represent a major opportunity for clinical translation, that has been largely overlooked in the West.
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