Scientists have found a way to use spinach to develop human heart muscle, which could solve a long-standing problem of repairing damaged organs. Their study, published by the journal Biomaterials, offers a new way to develop a vascular system, which has been an obstacle to tissue engineering.
Scientists have already created large-scale human tissue in a laboratory using methods such as 3D printing, but it has been much more difficult to grow small, fragile blood vessels that are vital to tissue health.
“The main limiting factor for tissue engineering … is the absence of a vascular network,” says Joshua Gershlak, a co-author of the study, a student at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts, in a video describing the study. “Without this vascular network, you have a lot of tissue destruction. “
Left: A decellularized spinach leaf is shown before the dye is added to test its ability to filter blood into the tissues. Right: The image of a spinach leaf after it has been shown that the red dye can be pumped into its veins, simulating the blood, oxygen and nutrients that human heart tissue needs to develop.
One of the characteristic features of a leaf is the branched network of fine veins that provides water and nutrients to its cells. Now scientists have used plant veins to replicate how blood circulates in human tissue. The work involves changing a spinach leaf in the lab to remove its plant cells, leaving a cellulose framework.
Scientists have managed to turn spinach leaves into human heart tissue
“Cellulose is biocompatible [and] has been used in a wide variety of applications in regenerative medicine, such as cartilage tissue engineering, bone tissue engineering, and wound healing,” the authors write in their article.
The team then bathed the remaining plant frame in living human cells, the plant then became a sort of scaffold around which human cells were grown and surrounded the tiny veins. The team was then able to inject fluids in the veins, demonstrating that blood cells could circulate in the system.
The ultimate goal is to replace damaged tissue in patients who have had a heart attack or who have suffered other heart problems that prevent their heart from contracting. Like the blood vessels, the veins of the modified leaves would supply oxygen to the entire band of replacement tissue, which is essential for generating new cardiac substances.
The study team says that the same methods could be used with different types of plants to repair different tissues in the body. For example, exchanging cells in the wood could one day help repair human bones.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but so far it’s very promising,” co-author Glenn Gaudette, also of WPI, said in a press release. “The adaptation of the abundant plants that farmers have been cultivating for thousands of years for tissue engineering could solve a host of field-limiting problems. “