As the number of people who need organs goes up, the number of donors has plateaued, meaning we need to find new solutions. Dr. Doris Taylor and her team’s answer: custom-building organs from cadavers.
Could Cadaver Organs Save Your Life?
Published: November 6, 2018
Onscreen: Could we ever custom-build healthy organs on demand?
Doris A. Taylor, MD: As the number of people who need organs goes up, the number of donors has plateaued. What that means is we had to find new solutions.
Onscreen: Dr. Doris Taylor is trying to rejuvenate dead organs taken from cadavers.
Taylor: We take an organ, a cadaveric organ that couldn’t otherwise be used for transplant. And we strip that organ of its cells by using a detergent or other solution to basically wash those cells out of the existing organ scaffold. And what’s left is what we call the extracellular matrix.
When you wash the cells out, what you have left is that underlying framework where the cells sit that looks like heart, looks like a liver, looks like a kidney because it is a heart, a kidney, a liver framework.
Onscreen: This is a heart stripped down to its protein scaffolding. Next, the team adds stem cells that could come from a patient's own body.
Taylor: Stem cells are simply cells that can do two things. They can make more of themselves, self-renew. And they can differentiate or become different kinds of cells.
Onscreen: As they move into the organ framework, the stem cells transform.
Taylor: Those stem cells seem to get cues from that matrix about where to go and what to become. There are biologic cues in there that say, oh, I should be a muscle cell here. I should be a blood vessel here. I should be an artery here and a vein here. And we can put cells in and have them migrate to the right place.
Good, good. Turn it just -- yes, yes, nice.
Onscreen: These organs are not ready for human transplant, but Taylor believes organs by design could someday save thousands of lives. Her team is also trying to build lungs, livers, and kidneys.
Taylor: What we’re talking about is potentially having off-the-shelf tissues. They’re, they’re two pieces to that that are revolutionary. One, we can potentially build an organ; two, we can build an organ that matches their body because as you know, when you get a transplant you’re essentially trading your original disease for another disease, which is fighting rejection for the rest of your life. I’ll be happy when we do our first clinical trial; I’ll be happier when there are enough organs for patients who need them.
Directed by: Niobe Thompson
Produced for NOVA by: Elizabeth Arledge
Digital Producer: Arlo Perez
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2018