“There has been an excitement about regenerative medicine in the world since the 1990’s,” said Dr. Doris Taylor who leads the Regenerative Medicine Research team (RMR) at Texas Heart Institute (THI). “We were the first to show that adult stem cells could be used to repair the function in an injured heart and beyond that we developed the IP for perfusion decellularization of scaffolds, but those were the easy parts. Rebuilding hearts and other solid organs is the challenge. No one can finish this alone. We need not only awareness and tools, but primarily we need resources and collaboration to get this done.”
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States with one in every four deaths attributable to the disease each year. It is estimated that approximately six million Americans are living with heart failure today and that half will die within five years of their diagnosis. Evidence suggests that certain types of adult stem cells can be used to reduce damaged heart tissue associated with heart failure and possibly generate new muscle that will allow the heart to work better.
The Texas Heart Institute, founded by world-renowned cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Denton A. Cooley in 1962, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the toll of cardiovascular disease through innovative and progressive programs in research, education and improved patient care, including one of the most promising areas of medicine today, regenerative medicine. To lead the world in creating, translating, and delivering novel solutions for cardiovascular repair and regeneration, THI launched the RMR department in 2012.
The RMR team is a multi-cultural, diverse group of scientists, researchers and experts who utilize their depth of knowledge and unique backgrounds to contribute to the department’s areas of translational research.
“We were involved very early in the ARMI process with Texas A&M and the Texas Medical Center, as we see a very clear opportunity to bring real results to fruition over the next 10 years,” Taylor noted.
The RMR team is focused in several key areas, including: developing new cell and gene therapies for heart and vascular disease; building a heart in the lab; identifying sex differences in heart disease therapies; treating aging as a failure of endogenous repair; engineering new solutions for pediatric heart disease; and identifying mechanisms of heart failure with preserved ejection fraction.
“Standardization will be key. The ability to really gain access to human stem cell flexibility in all areas from bioreactors to real-time manufacture will be a real gain,” Taylor said, adding “Engineering from hot to cold and wet to dry with air quality issues and inner changes – just like the human body has - and the need to grow 100’s of millions of cells in real-time, for a live species will need a rigorous approval process.”
In addition to research, the RMR is committed to furthering the education of medical professionals and scientists as well as the general community on the progress and possibilities of regenerative medicine. The department’s strong learning environment attracts hundreds of visitors each year, as well as professionals from all over the world (Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America) who train in the lab to develop their careers in medical research. The RMR’s training programs include pre- and post-doctoral fellowships, competitive summer internships for high school and college-level students, and partnerships with various educational institutions in the Texas Medical Center and at Texas A&M University School of Veterinary Medicine, where members of the RMR team provide lectures and seminars to faculty and students.
“Not every biology is the same when you are going from tissue to a whole heart. If we can partner with other ARMI members on the current ‘insurmountable’ hurdles we have now, they will go away,” Taylor said. “We are looking forward to working with ARMI folks when we say ‘helps us do xyz.’ ”
Texas Heart Institute has been at the forefront of cardiovascular discovery and innovation since its formation, and will continue to relentlessly pursue these outcomes until a cure for the disease is found.
“We hope to build certain parts and then let nature finish them,” Taylor concluded.