Duke researcher to lead University’s heart-repair center

by Geoffrey Ziezulewicz

Dr. Doris Taylor’s decision to leave the Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina to head the University’s new Center for Cardiovascular Repair pitted one part of her heart against another.

“It was a very hard decision,” Taylor said, to end her 12-year stint at Duke. “There is a great opportunity here, but it is very hard to be leaving friends and colleagues I care about deeply.”

In the end, her desire to find ways to use stem cells in repairing heart damage won.

Taylor will take charge of the University’s new cardiovascular center Oct. 7. She said she will continue co-chairing an international heart- and lung-cell transplant council.

While her official title at the University will be professor of physiology and medicine, Taylor said for now she plans to focus exclusively on research instead of teaching in the classroom.

University Medical School Dean Deborah Powell said Taylor was the best candidate to continue the University’s cardiovascular research history.

“Minnesota was repairing hearts back in the ’50s,” Powell said.

Dr. Earl Bakken invented the first heart pacemaker with University surgeons in 1957, Powell said.

“This is the next generation of that work, and it is kind of neat,” Powell said.

Powell said the $8 million in endowments, as well as investment from biotechnology companies like Medtronic and private donations, make it one of the most prestigious and well-funded University projects.

Taylor said she is very excited and encouraged by the financial and personal support the University has put in her and the new center.

“We can build whatever we want to build, and it’s going to be supported,” Taylor said.

Taylor will focus on stem cell research that involves taking healthy muscle and bone marrow cells from a person’s arms and legs and transplanting them to the heart to repair damaged and scarred tissue caused by heart attacks.

Because these stem cell transplants do not use cells from embryos, they are not embroiled in the same bioethical debates, Taylor said.

Muscle cells have a unique ability to repair and replace injured areas of the heart, unlike standard heart cells, Taylor said.

“When you tear a muscle, it gets well because it has cells hanging around in that muscle that are there to repair it,” she said.

“(Muscle cells) think that they are in an injured muscle, and they grow,” she said.

Every aspect of stem cell heart repair is in place at the University, Taylor said. She wants to help the institution communicate better and unify its purpose.

“We have an opportunity Ö to take a treatment from a basic idea all the way to a patient, and that’s what we need,” she said.

The new stem cell research could lead to treatment of other organ ailments and blood vessel damage, she said.

“If we didn’t anticipate big things, we would be crazy to go forward,” she said. “We have incredible capabilities here, and I think everybody ought to stay tuned because it’s going to be a real adventure and a real ride.”