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Regenerative Medicine Research
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Frequently Asked Questions


Dr. Doris Taylor - Cell Research


What are stem cells?

Stem cells are immature cells that exist in everyone throughout life and have the capability of becoming more specialized cells. Stem cells exist in virtually every organ and tissue, in bone marrow, and in blood. They hold the unique potential to become any of the specialized cell types in our body. Stem cells have two main characteristics: (1) the ability to multiply or self-renew and (2) the ability to "differentiate" -- to become different specialized cells.   

Where do you get these stem cells?

Stem cells are isolated from three major sources: our bone marrow, our blood, and our tissues such as fat, muscle, heart, skin, etc.

How do we use stem cells for cardiac repair? 

One way adult stem cells can repair the heart is by being injected into the heart where they "regenerate" into new heart muscle tissue and new blood vessel cells. 

Can blood stem cells be used for stem cell therapy? 

Yes. Stem cells are currently used in clinical trials. In fact, several research groups are studying the use of blood stem cells, also known as hematopoietic stem cells. In addition to the well known use in cancer treatment regimens (ie bone marrow transplants) stem cells are currently used in clinical trials for a variety of heart and vascular conditions including: heart failure, heart attacks, peripheral vascular disease, cardiomyopathy and stroke. To learn about current clinical trials, see and “Search for Studies.”          .

How will identifying stem cells in blood help patients?

Identifying stem cells in the blood may determine which patients are most likely to respond to stem cell therapy and indicate those who may not. The types of stem cells in blood can also potentially give you insight into your relative health compared to others in your age category.

Can a blood test show if stem cell therapy would benefit a heart failure patient?

We are studying the different cell populations in blood to help determine which patients may be most likely to respond to stem cell therapy. Right now we have identified stem cells that may be important and are testing them in ongoing studies. 

Can one use his/her own stem cells? 

Researchers are developing methods to use a patient's own stem cells for treatment of heart disease. However, this may not be the best source of therapeutic cells, depending on the patient 's health. For example, cells from blood, fat tissue, and bone marrow are being investigated. In some cases, doctors may need to utilize cells from a donor.

Are there differences between male and female stem cells? 

There are experiments that have shown female stem cells are more potent and have more longevity than stem cells from males.


What is regenerative medicine? 

Regenerative medicine involves repairing underlying disease states rather than just treating symptoms. It also includes the "making" of new tissues and organs to repair or replace those tissues or organs not functioning 100% due to age, disease, damage, or a congenital condition. This field holds the promise of regenerating damaged tissues using "cell therapies." 

The hope in regenerative medicine is that physicians and scientists will be able to grow tissues and whole organs in the laboratory and safely implant them when the body cannot heal itself. This addresses the huge clinical need that cannot be met by transplantation, because the availability of donor organs meets only a minute fraction of the need. 

What type of education do I need to work in this field? 

Regenerative medicine is a multidisciplinary field that employs biologists (cell, molecular, biochemical), engineers (biomedical, mechanical, electrical), and medical personnel (surgeons, cardiologists, research nurses) to work together. Regenerative medicine teams employ workers with B.S., B.S.N., M.S., Ph.D., M.D., D.V.M., and other advanced degrees. 

How do I learn more about regenerative medicine? 

The regenerative medicine field is diverse, spanning many research and clinical disciplines. There is no single society or organization that fully represents regenerative medicine, however below are a few resources with more detailed information. 

What type of research is THI working on in the field of regenerative medicine? 

The Regenerative Medicine Research facilities, led by Doris A. Taylor, PhD, FAHA, FACC, are located at the Texas Heart Institute—the Denton A. Cooley Building. The areas of regenerative medicine research at THI include: cell and gene therapy for treatment of cardiovascular diseases; cell profiling; tissue engineering of bio-artificial organs and vasculature; cell programming and reprogramming; cell-based prevention of disease; stem cell and cancer cell research; aging as a failure of stem cells; sex differences in cardiovascular and vascular cell-based therapies; and autologous cell therapy to treat and slow the progression of disease.  


Why are decellularized hearts called "ghost" hearts? 

Because all of the blood and cells within the heart have been removed and the remaining scaffold appears translucent white. 

What is the purpose of decellularizing a heart? 

The heart is decellularized so that the non-cellular framework of the organ (known as the extracellular matrix) can serve as a scaffold. The decellularized heart retains the extracellular "frame" of the organ, including chambers, valves, and blood vessels, although all the living cells have been removed. The scaffold can then be reseeded with healthy adult stem cells that can "regenerate" the heart into a healthy functioning organ. Eventually, the hope is that these regenerated hearts can be transplanted into patients. 

How long does it take to decellularize a heart? 

Depending on the size of the heart, decellularization can take from 30 to 120 hours. 

Can stem cells be used to grow hearts?

Yes, at THI we are testing various types of adult stem cells that can be used to recellularize hearts that we have previously decellularized. This is the way we are "growing" hearts in the lab. 

Are embryonic stems cells being used to regrow human hearts? 

No, embryonic cells are not being used to regrow human hearts. At THI we are testing various adult stem cells to grow hearts. 

Will a patient's own stem cells or someone else's stem cells be used to regrow a heart?

The idea is to use a patient's own stem cells to avoid the need for anti-rejection medications like those required for organ transplant patients. However, depending on the results of our study of blood stem cells that determine response to therapy, we may use donor stem cells. 

How long before these organs are ready for use? 

Because rebuilding organs to full functional capacity is extremely difficult, we estimate 10 to 15 years before these organs might be ready for human use. However, along the way we are developing cardiac patches, valves and other therapies that will take a shorter time than building a whole organ. 


Where can I find out about participating in clinical trials? 

The Stem Cell Center at the Texas Heart Institute is actively enrolling patients in studies using adult stem cells for various diseases of the heart and the circulatory system. Patients and doctors hoping to learn more about stem cell therapy are encouraged to contact us directly. Visit the Stem Cell Center Clinical Trials page for more information about our current trials, including the NIH-sponsored Cardiovascular Cell Therapy Research Network (CCTRN), and learn how to contact our team.  

How can stem cell therapy help heart failure patients? 

Early tests have shown that stem cell-based therapies can reverse (at least in part) the heart damage that results in heart failure.


Where can I learn more about your work?

Texas Heart Institute Regenerative Medicine Research website section is continually updated and we encourage you to visit the following sections: 

I would like to volunteer/shadow/visit the lab – what do I need to do? 

For information about volunteering, please email and include details about your specific interest.

I am looking for job opportunities in the lab. 

Candidates seeking Texas Heart Institute Regenerative Medicine Research labs post-doctoral research opportunities should visit St. Luke's website and select "Search Jobs at Texas Heart Institute". Use the requisition (job) number or keyword "Texas Heart Institute" to locate the position description and to apply online. For further information, contact Jill Almaguer by e-mail or 832-355-9489. 

Do you have a newsletter? 

Yes, register to receive our publications and news updates periodically. 

How can I find out about upcoming public presentations about regenerative medicine or hear Dr. Taylor speak? 

Join the list to receive specific information about upcoming outreach education events and opportunities to hear Dr. Taylor and/or her research team speak in the community. Be sure to include "RMR" or "Regenerative Medicine Research" in the subject box. 

If you have a question not covered above, please CONTACT US.

Updated July 2014
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