University loses famed researcher to Texas Heart Institute

After eight years at the U, Doris Taylor will leave and start a new job in Texas in March.

Evelina Smirnitskaya

Doris Taylor, the researcher who rose to prominence by creating a functioning rat heart in a laboratory, is leaving the University of Minnesota.

On March 1, Taylor will begin work at the Texas Heart Institute âÄî a nonprofit cardiology and heart surgery center in Houston.

In 2008, Taylor and her team managed to coax a dead rat heart to function again by draining it of its cells and infusing the leftover âÄúscaffoldâÄù with cells from newborn rats. The heart beat for 40 days.

She has since worked with collegues in Spain to recreate the process with the human heart.

The University Office for Technology Commercialization signed an agreement to license the technique to Miromatrix Medical Inc. in February 2010 in hopes of marketing a series of medical technology devices based on the research. Later that year, Taylor was ousted from the company by its board of directors. The University, a major shareholder in the company, supported the decision.

âÄúI was disappointed that an institution that I value and that IâÄôve been asked to represent nationally and internationally didnâÄôt feel the same [about me],âÄù Taylor told the Minnesota Daily in April 2011.

In an interview with the Star Tribune, Taylor acknowledged her removal from Miromatrix was a factor in her decision to relocate. But in a Tuesday interview with the Minnesota Daily, she said as a shareholder in the company she hopes for its success.

âÄúObviously if I were closely tied to the technology in Minnesota it would be more compelling to stay here,âÄù she said. âÄúBut I have a great opportunity, and I wish the company well; I wish the University well.âÄù

Texas Heart Institute spokesman Frank Michel  said that the institute recruited Taylor, who has received many job offers since she came to the University eight years ago.

âÄúThatâÄôs part of academia and part of having a positive reputation in your field,âÄù Taylor said.

But she said she has known some of her colleagues at the institute for years, and they have often brought up the possibility with her though, up until recently, it was âÄúonly just conversation.âÄù Michel said the institute has been in discussions with Taylor for a few months.

Michel said TaylorâÄôs exact position at the institute hasnâÄôt been determined but she will continue to do the kind of work she did at the University as the head of the Center for Cardiovascular Repair. TaylorâÄôs work is one of the first steps toward being able to regrow human organs using stem cells.

âÄúWeâÄôre doing a lot of work with regenerative medicine and stem cells and so forth, and so weâÄôre recruiting top scientists to help with that program,âÄù he said.

Miromatrix currently owns the rights to the recellularization technique Taylor uses in her research at the University. There are many groups doing that type of research, she said, and âÄútheyâÄôre not precluded from doing it.âÄù

âÄúIâÄôll have the same degree of freedom as anyone else in the world with regard to anything thatâÄôs been created in Minnesota or licensed,âÄù she said.

In a statement to her colleagues last week, Taylor said she will continue to collaborate with researchers at the University.

Angela Panoskaltsis-Mortari, a pediatrics professor, is doing similar research to TaylorâÄôs, but focusing on the lungs rather than the heart. She has partnered with Taylor for nearly two years. A few months ago, the pair received a $2.8 million National Institutes of Health grant for bioengineering a human lung using adult stem cells.

âÄúWe had a very fruitful collaboration and weâÄôre going to continue that âÄî so thatâÄôs not going to stop for me, on my end,âÄù Panoskaltsis-Mortari said. âÄúBut I think itâÄôs a loss to future investigators who would want to come to work at the University of Minnesota because [Taylor] is âÄìâÄì was âÄìâÄì here.âÄù

Panoskaltsis-Mortari said TaylorâÄôs departure is also an opportunity for Taylor herself and those investigators she will now have a chance to work with, which âÄúon a whole is good for science.âÄù

âÄúI think itâÄôs good for where sheâÄôs going, and itâÄôs good for somebody who maybe steps in here,âÄù she said. âÄúPart of the legacy that sheâÄôs leaving here is that this is where this work began and that will continue.âÄù