Using Pig Hearts, Stem Cells to Save Lives

Tuesday, 29 Jan 2013 12:30 PM

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Texas Heart Institute scientists are working to build stronger human hearts — using stem cells and pig hearts as a foundation.

Doris Taylor, a scientist with a Ph.D. in pharmacology, is working with a team of researchers to use pig hearts as a foundation for human hearts — combining them with human stem cells found in our organs and tissues that help repair damage — with the hope of bringing them to life, the Houston Chronicle reports.

"We can take stems cells from bone marrow, blood or fat and place them onto a heart, liver or lung scaffold," Taylor told the newspaper. "My motto for a long time has been 'Give nature the tools and get out of the way.' "

A pioneer in regenerative medicine research and cell therapy, Taylor is an expert in "whole-organ decellularization" — removing the existing cells from the hearts of lab animals and humans to leave a framework to build new organs.

Her team cleans pig hearts of their cells, using the same detergent found in baby shampoo, as well as other animal organs.

The team hopes its research will point the way for new treatments for heart failure, which affects nearly 5 million Americans. An estimated 400,000 to 700,000 new cases of heart failure are diagnosed each year, and deaths in the U.S. from this condition have more than doubled since 1979, averaging 250,000 annually.

In addition, the research could help “reanimate” hearts and other animal organs with human stem cells for in transplants and emergency situations, she said. It could also make mechanical hearts work better, grow skin for burn centers, and be used to help reverse the aging process.

"I've been called Dr. Frankenstein more times than I care to admit," Taylor told the Chronicle.

Read more about Taylor’s research here.

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