When molecular biologist Doris Taylor first saw stem cells beating in unison like a heart in a test tube, she was amazed. “It changed my life,” Taylor said. Now she wants to save other people’s lives with the help of her discoveries, CNN reports.
“I said, ‘God, that’s life. I wanted to find out how and why and recreate that to save lives, ”said Taylor, who led research in regenerative medicine at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston until 2020.
This goal has become a reality. On Wednesday, at the Life Itself conference, an event presented in partnership with CNN, Taylor showed the public its realization: a pig’s heart used as a “scaffold”, infused with human stem cells, thus creating a viable human heart that beats and which the body will not reject, because it is made of the tissues of the person receiving the transplant.
“Now we can really imagine building a personalized human heart, and the heart transplant can go from emergency surgery to a planned procedure,” Taylor said.
“This reduces your risk, by eliminating the need for drugs to prevent transplant rejection, by using your own cells to build that heart, we reduce the costs and the risk of hospitalization, so the procedure improves the patient’s quality of life,” she explained.
Alongside her was BAB, a robot whom Taylor taught to carefully inject stem cells into the chambers of “ghost hearts” in a sterile environment.
“It is the first attempt to truly cure the disease that kills the most men, women and children in the world. And I want it to be available to everyone, “said Taylor.
“She never gave up. At any moment, Dr. Taylor could have said, “I’m stopping, it just won’t work.” But he persevered, fought against failures to find the right type of cells in the right amounts and in the right conditions to allow those cells to grow, ”said Michael Golway, BAB’s lead inventor and president and CEO of Advanced Solutions. creates platforms for building human tissues.
The process is extremely complex. Taylor used a pig’s heart as a “scaffold,” which he filled with stem cells. They were then taught, by electrical stimulation, to behave like a beating heart.
But obstacles also arose.
“I realized that for every gram of heart tissue we build, we need a billion heart cells. This meant that for an adult human heart we would need up to 400 billion individual cells. Now, most labs work with about a million cells, and the heart cells do not divide. So a dilemma arose: where to get them? ”Taylor said.
The answer came from Japanese biomedical researcher Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, who discovered that adult human skin cells could be reprogrammed to behave like embryonic or “pluripotent” stem cells, capable of growing in any cell in the body. The 2007 discovery earned the scientist a Nobel Prize, and “induced pluripotent stem cells,” or iPS, became known as “Yamanaka factors.”
“Now, for the first time, I could take blood, bone marrow, or skin from a person, and I could grow cells that could turn into heart cells,” Taylor said.
“But the challenge was still huge: we needed tens of billions of cells. It took us another 10 years to develop the techniques needed to do that, ”she added.
Taylor now dreams of the day when people will be able to collect their own stem cells, taking them out of storage when they need a new heart – and maybe, at some point, even a lung, a liver or a kidney.
“We could plan ahead: grow the cells to the number we need and freeze them, and then, if the patient is diagnosed with heart failure, take a scaffold off the shelf and build the heart within two months,” she explained.
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