DAVIS, CA - In a tiny lab at UC Davis, these young women are setting out to change the face of medicine.
"The opportunity to be able to develop tissues and organs, which can be made, placed on a shelf and taken off by the hospital is every tissue engineer's dream," ViVita Technologies CEO Maelene Wong said.
It sounds like science fiction, but that's ViVita's mission, a company spun out of Wong's doctoral research at UC Davis.
"Our first product is a heart valve, but you can theoretically make an entire liver, kidney, skin patches, bone cartilage," ViVita's VP of Product Marketing Jeni Lee said.
Lee and Wong believe their approach to tissue preparation is game changing. Like other biological heart valve replacements, Vivita's are made of animal tissue, like a cow.
"The difference is we don't subject our tissue to chemical fixation," Wong explained.
It sounds complicated, and it is, but that's why they're the scientists. Basically, their patent-pending, platform technology makes your immune system less likely to reject the foreign tissue. By avoiding the chemicals currently used for heart valves, the foreign tissue also behaves like a living tissue. The reseachers said small animal trials this year validated their theories.
"We also saw the body cells grow back into it, which is amazing for our tissue because it means when our cells grow back into it, it can digest and change it to make it human tissue," Wong explained.
With the tissue becoming a part of the patient, it would mean only one surgery and a lifetime free of drugs. Right now, patients undergo replacement surgery every 10 years. About 65,000 heart valve replacements are performed in the United States each year. It's the second most common cardiac surgery.
UC Davis Medical Center cardiologist Dr. Jeffrey Southard is encouraged by the possible advances.
"If we can even get these valves to last 15, 20 years, it would have a huge impact," Southard said.
There's still a long way to go before ViVita's technology is ready. But they believe they're on the right track.
"People have dreamed it for so long and only now is science really catching up to what those dreams are," Lee said.
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