Most of our organs contain enough stem cells to repair and regenerate themselves after injuries. But not the heart, that most central of muscles. And finding a way to compensate for that fact has become a life’s mission for Doris Taylor, a new arrival at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston.
Taylor is a pioneer in regenerative medicine, having arrived last year from the University of Minnesota, where she gained international renown for her work in whole-organ decellularization. That’s the process of removing living cells from the organs of lab animals in order to strip them down to a matrix of tissue that can act as the scaffolding for new organs.
“At Texas Heart, we can really combine medicine and science to push new boundaries,” she says. “There’s an excitement here and level of opportunity and enthusiasm that you don’t see many places these days.”
She hopes to approach the U.S. Food and Drug Administration next year to do a first-in-human study with bio-artificial hearts.
Taylor will use her expertise as the new director of the Center for Cell and Organ Biotechnology, a recently announced $3 million collaboration between the Texas Heart Institute and Texas A&M University.
“Though we haven’t yet made Texas the biotech hub of the world, we have the potential to do so,” she says. “There are people who invest in risky ideas, or crazy ideas, here. There’s a reason they call it being a ‘cowboy.’ ”
Taylor and I spoke about the promise and challenges of innovating in cell regeneration, and how her research into repairing human hearts could help give back to the animals that have made her research possible. Here is an edited version of our conversation:
Xconomy: Of all the organs, why are you focused on the heart?
Doris Taylor: When I was a student, I thought I wanted to study the brain. I was talked into studying muscle by my professor, and once I did, I started studying muscle-nerve interaction. I did my postdoc in New York and that’s when I learned that when you have a heart attack, the heart can’t repair itself. I was learning that and becoming fascinated with … Next Page »