"We can actually make human tissue," Murphy says, explaining that by taking cells from individual patients' fatty tissue, Murphy and his team can literally grow blood vessels, skin grafts and nerve grafts in the lab. Although he admits the technology is still in its early stages, the potential applications of "tissue on demand" are nearly limitless. "We can study human biology without having to involve a human," Murphy enthusiastically states.
The growth of human tissue in a laboratory would avoid the use of embryonic stem cells and could serve as a game-changing method of testing disease models or new cancer drugs without involving patients in expensive clinical trials. "An example would be seeing if a Hepatitis C vaccine is effective in the liver," Murphy says. "We can't do it today without a liver to test on. You hear all the time about drugs that fail in Phase 3 clinical trials; a lot of these failures are because there's no good model for testing. Now we can get that answer in the lab with human cells and save up to 50% of the cost." According to Murphy, these new tissues would also avoid the use of animals in testing, since what works on animals in a lab often fails in clinical trials.
In the future, Murphy also hopes to be able to create functional blood vessels for use in bypass surgeries, thereby saving patients from invasive procedures that currently involve surgically removing an artery from the patient's leg. "I've always been invested in this field because of the ability to help patients," Murphy states. "It's about creating new care paradigms and solutions for patients and doctors. It's exciting for everyone involved."
Before founding Organovo in 2008, Murphy got his start in chemical and biological engineering, working with Amgen to develop bone regeneration drugs for patients with osteoporosis and bone cancer. Upon being introduced to Torrance Memorial Medical Center, however, Murphy soon decided to put his past experiences in business and fundraising to good use. He joined the Health Care Foundation board in March 2011, as a means to help make a difference in the quality of health care in his community.
"We're making sure the programs at the hospital are always growing and that we're bringing in new people. We're always working to make the hospital a better place," Murphy says. His big goal is to keep the funds coming for the construction of the new tower, a 390,000 square foot building set to be completed in 2015 that will be the new main tower for the hospital.
And Murphy isn't alone in his efforts. He is accompanied by his wife, Amanda, a successful radiologist at Torrance Memorial who is also deeply invested in the improvements at the hospital. They met more than a decade ago at an office party, and it was Amanda's influence that inspired Murphy to get involved. "She's an excellent doctor," Murphy states. "And [the radiology] group is just incredible-the staff of doctors there are the top folks in the field." Although Murphy admits it can be difficult being married to a doctor who's always on call, he believes in the importance of making it work. "I try to be as supportive as I can," he explains.
The couple recently moved to Redondo Beach, and they make time whenever possible to go for a run together along the boardwalk or go out for a meal at Chez Melange in Riviera Village. "It's a great neighborhood," Murphy says. "We've gotten to know so many people through the hospital and the larger community." They hope to start a family of their own in the near future, and it is clear that, for Murphy, it's all about growth-both personal and professional. "I try to take advantage of the opportunities I've been given in my life," Murphy says. "Every day."