Dr. Doris Taylor is the Director of the Center for Cardiovascular Repair at the University of Minnesota and she also led the team of cell and molecular biologist you’ve been reading about in the paper. Dr. Taylor joins EmpowHer.
Doris, for those who don’t normally wear a lab coat, how do you explain the process of creating a beating heart?
Dr. Doris Taylor:
I am happy to give it a shot Todd. What we did is we took a heart from an animal, from an animal that had already died and in the laboratory. We used the blood supply to that heart, so the blood vessels that ran into the heart and we actually dripped into that a solution that was made up of soap. The soap broke down the cells and washed all the pieces of cells out of that heart.
So then we had what was left, which is, it’s sort of like gutting a house. We had the framework that was left.
EmpowHer: Kind of like the skeletal structure even.
Dr. Doris Taylor: We call it the scaffolds but yeah, skeletal structure is a great way to think about it, looks little bit like a ghost version of a heart.
EmpowHer: Oh, so it’s kind of translucent?
Dr. Doris Taylor: Yes.
EmpowHer: How long is the process from breaking it down to getting to that translucent structure, to creating a live beating heart? How long does that take?
Dr. Doris Taylor: Well, it depends on the size of the heart you start with. In a rat heart, it takes about a day to get rid of old cells and then we usually wash it for another day, add the cells back on yet the third day and then couple of days later, we start to see some contractions but it takes really about a week before we see something that we can call ‘beating’ or ‘pumping’ of that heart.
EmpowHer: Now when you say ‘add the cells back’, like you just did, are these normal cells? Are they special cells, like maybe stem cells?
Doris Taylor: Right, the first experiment we did was what we call a proof of concept, let’s just give it the best shot possible to see if it works…
Dr. Doris Taylor: So what we did is we took heart cells from other rats, from baby rats that we knew we could grow in addition, the thing that most people probably don’t know about heart cells is that if you just put it, that they’ll beat in a dish, they know how to beat.
It’s pretty surreal the first time you see that on a day. It really makes you question what does the life mean? But anyway, we put those cells that would normally beat in a dish, back into this heart and actually over time they started contracting. But the great thing was they started contracting together and they got stronger and we got thick areas of those heart cells that looked very much like an early, young heart and could actually see beating.
Dr. Doris Taylor: I just have to say I am lucky to be able to talk to you about it.
EmpowHer: Oh gosh, I think we feel the same way so take me down the road. Now, I know there are about 3,000 patients in the United States that are on waiting list for heart transplants.
Doris Taylor: Right.
EmpowHer: Now, I am looking down the road and I hope that it’s like, you know, it’s not cart before the horse but there’s only about 2,000 that receive donated organs each year. So there’s a gap. What are the long -term possibilities of a discovery like this?
Dr. Doris Taylor: Well, we’d like to think about the fact. We’d like to make a difference in the lives of people with chronic disease. The goal is to create organs for people who need them. So if you needed a heart, for example, the idea would be to take either a pig heart or a heart from a human donor that couldn’t be used for transplant, and remove all the cells from that heart, grow cells from you, either stem cells from your blood or your bone marrow or your muscle or maybe even from a little biopsy of your heart, transplant those cells into that scaffold that has no more cells and create a heart that matches your body.
EmpowHer: In a week.
Doris Taylor: Well, I don’t know if it takes longer than a week in a human heart because it’s so much larger.
EmpowHer: It’s like developing film in 30 minutes, you know I mean if it takes longer than a week now, imagine how short it’s going to be in the future.
Dr. Doris Taylor: Well, we’ll see. Wouldn’t that be nice? But we’ll see. What we do think is that its not unreasonable to begin to think along those lines, that we can do this some day and that we can make organs that match your body in a way that makes it easier for, makes it possible for people to get organs who wouldn’t otherwise had that opportunity and maybe even get them without some of the horrific side effects that are caused by the anti-rejection drugs.
EmpowHer: Doris, is there a question that I should ask you at this time that you think would be helpful for women?
Dr. Doris Taylor: This isn’t really related to what we work but it’s relevant.
Dr. Doris Taylor: We know, we’re beginning to… we know that heart disease differs in men and women, right? We are beginning to learn that stem cells also differ in men and women and we have some ideas now about how and why heart disease might differ, based on differences in the stem cells that exist in the body.
So in the future, I think we’re going to be able to use technologies like this, not only to hopefully cure, begin to cure disease for people who already have it but to prevent heart disease and to treat people who already have, who had a heart attack or who have peripheral vascular disease.
So what I would say to people out there is keep thinking and keep being aware of the new cutting edge technology and if I can do anything to help, contact the Center for Cardiovascular Therapy, University of Minnesota and we’ll do what we can to point you in the right direction.
EmpowHer: Well, she is Doris Taylor. She led the team of cell and molecular biologists. She is the Director of the Center for Cardiovascular Repair at the University of Minnesota. Doris, thank you so much for joining us on the EmpowHer podcast.