Reloading the Matrix: Doris Taylor Is Growing New Hearts

Doris Taylor wants to reload the matrix. A leading stem cell researcher at the University of Minnesota, Taylor is pioneering a new approach to transplantation, in which new hearts may one day be grown around the remaining scaffold, or matrix, of a cadaver heart, most likely from an animal.

I usually avoid covering  basic or pie-in-the-sky  research on CardioBrief. But an editor in London asked for some assistance covering Taylor’s presentations at the ACC so I checked out her talks here on Saturday. Taylor still has a long way to go, as she agrees along with everyone else, but her work now strikes me as a line of research worth following.

By using the matrix of animal hearts to grow human cells taken directly from the patient needing a new heart, Taylor hopes that her approach will overcome two of the biggest obstacles to transplant therapy: organ shortage and rejection.

Taylor’s research shows that the underlying matrix powerfully influences the fate of cells. In ways only dimly understood, the extracelleular matrix somehow imparts important functional clues to the cells. For instance, one fascinating finding is that cardiac derived progenitor cells will have a different morphology and pattern of gene expression  depending on their matrix. A leading cardiologist, Anthony De Maria, said that this findings was “stunning.” Further, cardiac cells growing on the matrix can be taught to beat in unison, though as yet the power of the contractions is not comparable to a functional heart. In fact, the same cells will differ when applied to the matrix of the right ventricle or the left ventricle.

In addition to the matrix and cells, a functioning organ needs to be perfused. Taylor shows that arterial and vascular cells end up in the vasculature, and endothelial cells  reline the entire vascular tree where they will inhibit throbus formation.

Another fascinating direction of Taylor’s research involves applying a matrix “patch” in place of infarcted tissue. In rats she has grown new cells on the matrix implanted inside the living rat to prevent functional decline after MI. “The patch begins to prevent negative remodeling” within days after experimental MI in rats, reports Taylor.

Taylor has worked with a large variety of animal and now human matrices, as well as different types of animal and human cell types. In some of her newest research, performed with collaborators in Spain, where the local laws favor organ donation, human cells have been grown on human matrices. Although this is an important part of her research, Taylor says it’s not the goal of her research, since using human matrices will hinder the growth of the technique.

No one knows when or if a total heart transplant using these techniques will be attempted, but, says Taylor, “I predict in 5 years a piece of heart will be transplanted.”

OK, Neo. Maybe you are “the One.”

Is she "the One"?


  1. Robert matheny says:

    This is already available clinically in the form of matrix from CorMatrix Cardiovascular, Inc. and has been for four years. I presented matrix regenerating heart tissue to Dr. Taylor and colleagues in 2002 when she was still a professor at Duke and working on Skeletal. Since then we have formed the company and are currently marketing the matrix for repair of heart tissue in the US and Europe. Talk to us to find out the complete story or check out the web site. It is virtuous why she is getting so much press when this has been marketed to surgeons for several years now.

  2. Mr. Matheny,

    The obvious difference between Dr. Taylor’s work and that of CorMatrix is that the work presented by Taylor represents ECM taken from a decellularized heart, retaining the architecture of the original organ. Not only is the composition of this ECM almost identical to the native tissue’s, but so is the structure. Creating ECM from subintestinal submucosa is quite different. To use the word “virtuous” to describe Dr. Taylor’s work clearly represents a lack of understanding of the science.

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