HOUSTON - Scientists in the Medical Center could be on the precipice of solving a health crisis.
The Texas Heart Institute has a team of people trying to build hearts needed for life-saving transplants.
“There are 3,000 people on the waiting list today. We’re only going to transplant 2,300 all year. That means people don’t have what they need,” said Doris Taylor, who leads Regenerative Medicine Research at Texas Heart Institute.
Researchers are using hearts from human and animal cadavers to build custom organs.
“It’s like a house. You need the two-by-fours. You need the scaffold. Nature has created the perfect scaffold, a heart,” Taylor said. “What we’re essentially using is a heart that couldn’t otherwise be used for transplant or a pig heart. Pig hearts are similar to human hearts and we already transplant valves from pig hearts all the time.”
The Texas Heart Institute has figured out a system to clean all the cells out of each heart. Scientists then inject it with stem cells, place it in a simulated body in the lab, and make the heart beat again.
The goal is to use patients’ stem cells so each organ is built for their body. Researchers believe the process will eliminate the issue of organ rejection.
Taylor’s team has kept cadaver hearts alive for 45 days in the lab.
“We’re right on the edge of just falling off that precipice of having it all come together,” she said.
Once they’re done with each heart, researchers perform an autopsy using the same tests as medical examiners to further prove cadaver hearts truly perform like real ones.
Dr. Taylor’s best bet is the first bio-artificial organ will be transplanted into a child with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome using a partial rabbit heart.
She says the ground-breaking procedure could happen in just five years.
“It’s really doing it over and over and over and making sure every time you build one, it's good enough to go in your mom or your child, so we have to get it perfect,” Taylor said.
She believes the technology could work for any tissue or organ.
The vast majority of people needing organ transplants are waiting for kidneys and livers.
A Houston organization called the Living Bank promotes living organ donations to reduce waiting lists and save lives.
“There’s over 115,000 people on the waiting list. 83 percent are waiting on a kidney and 13 percent are waiting on a liver. That’s 95 percent that can be treated by living organ donation,” said Kelly Perdue, President of the Living Bank.
To learn more about living organ donations, tap/click here.