“Who wants to live forever?” The late, great lead singer of Queen, Freddie Mercury, crooned.
“Well, I wouldn’t mind the option.” I responded flatly, the guy parking his car at ASU.
While on campus, I pondered that recent conversation with my stereo. I surmised that Dr. Doris Taylor, Director of Regenerative Medicine Research at Texas Heart Institute, heard the same tune. She is at the bleeding edge of a new frontier: whole organ decellularization (a.k.a. prepping organs for transplant). Her techniques are disquieting for some, almost Promethean, but intriguing nonetheless.
Dr. Taylor started with a rat-heart. She inserted a catheter into the recently harvested organ and slowly drained its original cells. Then, after cleansing the heart, only its connective tissue remained. She proceeded to fill its empty spaces with fresh cells acquired from the body of its new host.
The lifeless organ also needed an electrical signal, mechanical blood pressure, and oxygen. A bioreactor sufficed; an artificial body that resembled a pickle jar on life support. However, that’s no pickle inside. They could tell because after merely a week of lying dormant, the heart spontaneously began to beat…on its own.
It was 2005 when Dr. Taylor forged that organic, thumping “Ghost Heart.” It was a first for laboratory scientists, as well. What’s more, Dr. Taylor has shown her process works with other organs, like a set of lungs. Her efforts have reanimated the dead organs of rats and pigs. She sees this technology working in humans in years, not decades.
The arch-nemesis of a successful organ transplant is tissue rejection. Dr. Taylor’s phenomenal technique could allow for organ transplantation from cadaver to patient without such concerns. It could negate the need for a lifetime of anti-rejection medications that suppress the immune system, cause nausea, tremors, and more.
Humans are creatures of life, but all of history implies that we’re built for death. Yet, here we are, at the brink of reconfiguration with lifespans no longer truncated by decay. There is an entire torso crammed with life-sustaining goodies, which ripen and long for replacement. The potential of Dr. Taylor’s labors are a means to that end – and a pathway to immortality.
Image courtesy of 2il org, used under a Creative Commons license.