Study Turns Spinach Leaves into Functional Heart Tissue

Call it a superfood, call it a power green. Spinach is high in several vitamins and a great addition to any diet. In a recent study, biomedical engineers have discovered yet another use for spinach due to its physical attributes, not its chemical composition.

Nearly two dozen people die each day waiting for an organ transplant. Scientists have tried to make artificial organs using 3-D printers, yet a perfect heart that distributes blood to all cells has not been able to be printed. Since blood vessels are heart to recreate, scientists have borrowed from nature.

Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts reported their latest findings in the Biomaterials journal. Using detergent, these tissue engineers stripped spinach leaves of their cells, leaving them translucent. What is left behind is cellulose, a plant material compatible with mammal tissue, as well as leaf veins. Human heart cells were inserted on the cells. After five days, the cells began to beat. Inserting red liquid into the leaf veins also showed how blood could be transported throughout. Watching human cells contracting on a leaf was very exciting.

Canadian scientists previously stripped an apple of its plant cells and filled it with cervical tissue, but this new study is the first attempt to repurpose plant veins. This study could be the basis for attaching veins of spinach leaves to human blood vessels, as well as grafting damaged heart tissue. First they need to make sure that the leaves would not be rejected once inside the body. They will stack multiple leaves to create a thicker muscle wall.

Biomedical engineers are also stripping plant cells off parsley, peanut roots, and wormwood in addition to spinach. They are imagining that a piece of broccoli or cauliflower could one day be a foundation to grow lung tissue.

Guarino, Ben. “Scientists convert spinach leaves into human heart tissue — that beats.” Morning Mix. The Washington Post, 27 Mar 2017. Web. 2 Apr 2017.

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