Doctor, team build transplantable hearts

By Dominique Sachse, Anchor, dominique@click2houston.com
Published On: Feb 19 2014 10:56:32 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 20 2014 06:59:11 AM CST

Feb. 19, 2014: From science fiction to real-life breakthrough, what's happening right now in a Houston medical lab will change thousands of lives forever. Dominique Sachse reports.

HOUSTON -

From science fiction to a real-life breakthrough, what's happening right now in a Houston medical lab will change thousands of lives forever. Researchers are building new organs -- hearts and kidneys -- they hope will eventually be viable for transplants.

"Everyone was planning homecoming and I was waiting for a heart," said heart transplant patient Amanda Dejesus, of Pearland.

At the young age of 15, Dejesus got the news no teenager expects: She needed a new heart.

"Every day the doctors come in and say either yes or no," Dejesus said.

After six agonizing months of waiting, her day finally arrived.

"The way it was described to me when I was 15 that affected me forever was, 'Someone has to die in order for you to live,'" Dejesus said as she teared up.

A man from West Texas named Bob became her donor. Within hours of his death, Dejesus received the gift of life.

But not everyone is as fortunate as Dejesus was.

"Every year thousands die waiting to get an organ," said Dr. Doris Taylor.

That's why inside the lab at the Texas Heart Institute Taylor and her team are actually building hearts.

They are taking pig hearts, stripping them using simple dish soap and water, and then implanting them with adult human stem cells.

"These will go from being dark red to being completely white," Taylor said.

The human stem cells then naturally grow into a human organ; in this case, a heart.

"Most people have one or two wow moments in their life," Taylor said. "The first time I saw it (the built heart) beating, I was like, 'Yes!' It makes you question, 'What is life?' When you see a heart that was dead for eight days and it starts beating -- oh my gosh."

So what's the timeline to turn this from sci-fi to real life? Taylor would not say specifically.

"I think we'll be having some interesting conversations in the very short term," Taylor said.

Some might question if Taylor and her team are taking science too far.

"You know, if we've been given tools to make a difference in the lives of people, my personal belief is that it would be morally wrong not to go forward and use those tools," Taylor said. "If I knew a way to make a child better and I didn't do that, what would that make me?"

Taylor's research brings new hope to thousands of people like Dejesus.

"So the idea of people not having to die for someone like me to have this chance would be amazing," Dejesus said. "I really do think it would be a miracle. So that's awesome if that could one day happen."

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