University of Minnesota Alumni Association


New Hope for Transplantable Organs

Miromatrix Medical's breakthrough technology plans to turn discarded pig organs into human livers and kidneys.

In perfusion decellularization,porcine cells are "washed"out of an organ and replacedwith human cells. Photo Courtesty Miromatrix

This year, more than 104,000 Americans are on a waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, a nonprofit managing the nation’s transplant system. Tragically, an average of 17 people die each day while waiting for an organ.

A Minnesota company called Miromatrix hopes to address this crisis by using transplants from pigs that have undergone a procedure called perfusion decellularization and perfusion recellularization technology. At it simplest, this takes a pig organ that would have been discarded and washes out the existing cells. It then reseeds human cells into the existing structure (the matrix) of the organ. Think of it like an organ-shaped water balloon emptying and then being refilled. 

CEO Jeff Ross (back, center) with University alumni who work at Miromatrix. Front row: Kelly Baker, Noelle Palumbo, Levi Willenburg. Middle row: Jody Bonnevier, Jordan Wolford, Ernesto Resnik, Freddie Miller, Amanda Cleaver. Back row: Brian Niebur, Em Lopresti, Dmitrii Pokhil, Joel Brittain, Aron Stumbras.
Photo by Rob Levine

The procedure was pioneered at the University by cardiac regeneration scientist Doris Taylor and surgeon and researcher Harald Ott. In 2008, the duo took the cells out of a dead rat heart and then injected the organ with living cells from newborn rats. The heart began to beat within a week, and kept beating for 40 days with the help of electrical signals.

“Here was a technology that was able to bioengineer transplantable organs....I took a step back and asked myself if, on the day that they transplant that first organ into a patient, could I live with myself if I wasn’t part of it? And the answer was no.”
Jeff Ross

Miromatrix was foundedin 2009 and was named after Taylor’s favorite artist, Joan Miró. But, as with many start-ups, the transition from laboratory to C-suite was rocky and the company went through leadership changes and years of financial ups and downs.

Now, over a decade later, Miromatrix appears poised for success. Since 2017, it has been led by CEO Jeff Ross (M.S. ’02, Ph.D. ’06), who joined the company in 2010 as the vice president of product development. When he was recruited to join Miromatrix, Ross was employed by Surmodics in Eden Prairie, which manufactures drug-delivery coatings for medical companies. But, as Ross learned more about Miromatrix, he decided it was worth taking a gamble on a nascent company.

“Here was a technology that was able to bioengineer transplantable organs, and I couldn’t think of a greater unmet need to be part of,” he says. “I took a step back and asked myself if, on the day that they transplant that first organ into a patient, could I live with myself if I wasn’t part of it? And the answer was no.”

The company went public in 2021 with a $43 million initial public offering. Its 70 employees include many U of M alumni. The company's first two products—a surgical mesh called MIROMESH and a wound care solution called MIRODERM—have been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration. (In 2019, these products were spun off into a new company called Reprise Biomedical, which manufactures both products today.)

Miromatrix is now working on the next steps toward creating bioengineered kidneys and livers. First, the livers will be hooked up to a blood pump and placed outside a patient’s body, which will work much like liver dialysis until the failed liver starts working again. (Unlike kidneys, livers can regenerate.)

Last November, the company applied for an investigational new drug license with the FDA. Once that process is complete, hopefully in 2024, Miromatrix plans to begin clinical studies.

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