The new collaboration will focus on cell and organ-based biotechnology.
For example, stripping cells from an animal heart, leaving only a white scaffold of inert tissue.
Then, infusing the scaffold with human stem cells to grow a new heart for a sick cardiac patient.
It’s an approach being developed by Dr. Doris Taylor at the Texas Heart Institute.
“You don’t just build a heart by putting cells in a dish and calling it a heart. That’s not a heart. We need a scaffold. We can create those scaffolds from animals, from pigs probably. And working with our colleagues at A&M who understand that, we’ll have the opportunity to get scaffolds that can be made into human organs.”
Taylor says this approach is also being tried with livers, kidneys and lungs.
Gov. Rick Perry spoke about the $3 million dollar award at the Texas Heart Institute.
“This center will play a key role in securing Texas’s very critical emerging role in biotechnology.”
Dr. Taylor was recruited to the Texas Heart Institute last year from the University of Minnesota, where she developed the organ-scaffold process.
But she says there will be many other ways to collaborate with vets and engineers at A&M.
For example, racehorses with tendonitis are already being treated with stem cell therapy, and that could help human athletes.
“At Texas A&M, they have over 20,000 veterinary cases a year of animals with disease, so it’s not an artificial model, it’s a real deal: pets who need treatment, patients who need treatment.”
As another example, Taylor points out that Doberman pinschers routinely get heart disease.
The new partnership will be called The Center for Cell and Organ Biotechnology. The research will be conducted at both the Texas Heart Institute and A&M.
Perry and the legislature created the Emerging Technology Fund in 2005. It uses taxpayer money to stimulate innovation and job growth in technological fields.
The fund has distributed more than $200 million in grants to more than 140 startup companies. Some of the grants have been politically controversial, or have resulted in failed investments.
Taylor says one of the first steps for the Texas Heart Institute will be to hire an expert to help commercialize the inventions and spin off companies.