Perhaps, soon, we wouldn’t have to lean (so much) on those recent artificial hearts prosthetic anymore
. Surprisingly, study says that spinach (yes, that veggy) can be used to build working human heart muscle, potentially creating the much needed small, delicate blood vessels vital to tissue health.
The study recently published by the journal Biomaterials
shows a new way to grow a vascular system, which has been quite a challenge. Though 3d printed human tissues are already available, minute parts like capillaries and small blood vessels have been much harder to grow. “The main limiting factor for tissue engineering … is the lack of a vascular network,” says study co-author Joshua Gershlak, a graduate student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts, in a video describing the study. “Without that vascular network, you get a lot of tissue death.”
They found that the spinach leaf has a branching network of minute veins that deliver water and minerals to its own cells. Now, scientists have used these to duplicate the flow of blood through human tissue. They had to modify a spinach leaf in the lab to remove all its plant cells, decellularizing it and making it translucent. This leaves behind a frame made of cellulose which “has been used in a wide variety of regenerative medicine applications, such as cartilage tissue engineering, bone tissue engineering, and wound healing,” as described by authors.
The researchers then surrounded the remaining plant frame in live human cells to act as scaffolding for tiny veins. Once they had transformed the spinach leaf into a sort of blood vessel, the researchers then sent red dye through its veins to show that blood cells can flow through this system.
Such innovation is created to (possibly) be able to replace tissues damaged by heart attacks or other cardiac issues that prevent hearts from contracting. Similar to human blood vessels, the veins in the modified spinach would deliver oxygen to the entire patch of replacement tissue, which is important in creating new cardiovascular matter.
The researchers say the same methods could be applied with different types of plants to repair different tissues in the body, like using wood to help fix human bones. “We have a lot more work to do, but so far this is very promising,” study co-author Glenn Gaudette. “Adapting abundant plants that farmers have been cultivating for thousands of years for use in tissue engineering could solve a host of problems limiting the field.”