Stand in the middle of Texas Medical Center, and you can experience a realm of exciting advances in regenerative medicine simply by walking down the street. Texas Heart Institute (THI), Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center, Baylor College of Medicine (BCM), University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHealth) at Houston Medical School, and Rice University‘s Baker Institute for Public Policy all have a hand in research concerning stem cells used as therapies for a range of conditions. The applications are diverse, with cardiovascular regeneration conducted at THI and Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center and neural regeneration at BCM and UTHealth, all while Rice University examines the ethical issues behind stem cells. Many of these projects were highlighted at the 2014 World Stem Cell Summit held in San Antonio, Texas last year.
“I truly hope participants at the World Stem Cell Summit walked away realizing that Texas is a place where, if you can imagine it, you can do it,” said Doris A. Taylor, PhD, director of Regenerative Medicine Research at THI, in a news report. “It’s not crazy to have a Stem Cell Summit in the middle of Texas. It’s actually very progressive, because we have some of the best thinkers in the world here.”
In Dr. Taylor’s lab, researchers are building hearts by decellularizing cadaveric hearts and recellularizing them with stem cells. “There are a number of sources for cells, from bone marrow to tissue and even generating iPSCs,” explained Dr. Taylor. “It takes more than a few cells, though — if you’re going to build an organ, it’s going to take hundreds of billions of cells. More than that, we need a place to put those cells.”
Her team has removed one of the difficult aspects of building an organ by starting with a preexisting scaffold rather than using printed or constructed scaffolds. “Decellularization is very simple. It’s essentially just washing out the cells,” she described. “What’s left is the structural composition.”
Dr. Decker’s work is aimed at treating cancer by using the patient’s own immune system. “We’re really interested in generating these highly specific, cancer-fighting immune cells from regular immune cells,” he said. In essence, Dr. Decker aims to reduce the need for chemotherapy to reduce the problem of side effects while still preventing metastasis and recurrence. “People will still need chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but hopefully the doses can be smaller and the side effects more manageable,” he explained.
To highlight just one of a plethora of advances in stem cell research in Texas, Charles Cox, Jr., MD at UTHealth, is working on fixing brain damage in young people. “One of the critical unmet needs in pediatric care is the lack of a reparative therapy for traumatic brain injury–that’s really where I first became engaged in the use of stem cell based therapies,” said Dr. Cox.
Along similar lines, Sean Savitz, MD, also at UTHealth, is using autologous bone marrow stem cells to treat stroke patients. “I see really high potential for developing cell therapies for a range of neurological disorders,” said Dr. Savitz. “I think that’s partly a goal here, thinking about which disorders might be amenable in using cell therapies and doing properly designed, rigorous clinical trials to assess their safety and effectiveness.” No doubt, a host of clinical trials will result from the extensive stem cell research conducted in the state of Texas.