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A model of a human heart.

The human heart takes centerstage at the U's new Center for Cardiovascular Repair.

On the mend

By Mary Hoff

From eNews, February 10, 2005

If you scrape your knee or break an arm, your body knows right what to do: make more skin or bone to replace the damaged tissue. But it's not that simple if what's hurt is your heart. When cardiac muscle is destroyed by a heart attack, cardiomyopathy, or other illness or injury, there are no replacement parts waiting in the wings.

In some patients, a heart transplant or a mechanical device can help restore at least some of the lost function. But in most instances, the owner of the damaged heart is sentenced to a life of downward spiraling health as the surviving cells literally work themselves to death struggling to do the job of their fallen comrades. Soon, however, that picture may change. With the creation of the Center for Cardiovascular Repair (CCVR) at the University of Minnesota, the stage has been set for moving a revolutionary heart-mending strategy from the laboratory to real life.

Known as cellular cardiomyoplasty, the approach involves infusing living cells from other parts of a person's body into his or her heart to restore lost function. This revolutionary approach has been shown to improve heart function in animals and has begun to be tested in humans, with encouraging preliminary results. The rigor of randomized clinical trials is next.

CCVR director Doris Taylor should know better than just about anyone what promise this new technology has to offer. In 1998, Taylor led a research team at Duke University in North Carolina that published a paper showing improvement in the function of damaged heart tissue in rabbits after transplantation of leg muscle cells. "All the pieces are in place here [at the U] to succeed," she says. Those pieces include a cadre of top-notch cardiologists and surgeons; the Stem Cell Institute, which offers opportunities to collaborate in exploring the use of adult stem cells for repairing not only heart but also vascular tissue; the Biomedical Engineering Institute, which can design almost anything we can imagine; the Lillehei Heart Institute; the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research; the Minnesota Molecular and Cellular Therapeutics Facility, which allows researchers to prepare cells under the rigorous conditions needed for human clinical trials; the local biomedical industry community; and what Taylor refers to as a "strong belief in innovation."

"I was hired to be the catalyst," she says. "My job is to be a connector among the various aspects that are here and to really help bring together what might have seemed like disparate areas of research into a network, so that we can move ahead faster and better than anyone else and really be the place people think of when they think cardiovascular repair."

To learn more about Doris Taylor, read "Hearty enthusiasm."

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