University of Minnesota researcher Doris Taylor walks into her lab every morning with one mission: to change the world with her research.
Taylor, director of the University’s Center for Cardiovascular Repair, said that focus hasn’t wavered since she was removed from the company built on her research.
It has been nine months since Taylor was quietly ousted from Miromatrix Medical Inc. Its board of directors voted to terminate her membership in July — a decision supported by the University, a shareholder in the start-up company.
The University and Miromatrix board members are mum about what led to her dismissal. Board chairman Walter Sembrowich declined to comment, and Miromatrix CEO Robert Cohen did not return multiple interview requests Monday.
Taylor herself declined to comment on her relationship with Cohen and other board members.
In a Star Tribune article, Taylor said her questions regarding the company’s finances and direction “weren’t well received.” Hours after submitting those questions in writing at a July board meeting, she heard she had been voted out.
Taylor chose her words carefully as she relived that day in an interview with the Minnesota Daily.
“I was disappointed that an institution that I value and that I’ve been asked to represent nationally and internationally didn’t feel the same [about me],” she said.
Since 2008, Taylor has been a poster child for the University’s research initiatives. She was launched into the national spotlight that year when she and her research team grew a rat’s heart in a jar using stem cells.
After draining the cells from a dead rat’s heart — leaving behind what Taylor calls a heart “scaffold” — the team implanted cells from newborn rats back into the dead heart and coaxed it to eventually beat again for 40 days.
The University Office for Technology Commercialization signed an agreement to license Taylor’s technique to Miromatrix in February 2010 in hopes of marketing a series of medical technology devices based on her research.
The technique may hold the key to generating whole human organs grown from a patient’s own cells for transplant — not just hearts, but livers, kidneys and lungs.
Five months after signing the contract, Taylor was squeezed out.
It’s unclear why.
As the University’s chief investment officer, Stuart Mason was responsible to vote on behalf of the University on whether to oust Taylor from the board.
Faced with that decision, Mason said he consulted a number of board members to determine what would be best for the future of the company.
With the power of the University’s 28.6 percent of Miromatrix’s stock behind him, Mason voted in support of Taylor’s removal.
The University released a statement on the dismissal Monday, but isn’t granting interviews on the story.
“The technology has been successfully transferred out of the University, Miromatrix has replicated it, and the company is pursuing a viable business strategy to commercialize it,” Vice President for Research Tim Mulcahy said in the statement.
The decision to remove Taylor was made “to ensure that the company continues to make progress and move the technology into the public domain as quickly as possible in order to benefit society,” the statement said.
“Sure sounds to me like a common goal, so it’s hard for me to understand why there would be a divergence of opinion,” Taylor said in response to the University’s statement.
But Taylor prefers not to talk about what happened in July, and she remains committed to advancing her research.
She and her colleagues have drained the cells from 17 human hearts in Spain, where citizens must opt-out of organ donation, unlike the U.S.’ opt-in system.
“I’m not going to let non-science things get in the way of moving this technology forward,” she said.
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