Researchers have successfully created functioning human heart tissue, complete with veins that can transport blood, using no less than spinach leaves.
In the past, scientists have struggled with building large-scale human tissue. There have been fruitful experiments on small lab samples, but it has proven difficult to make tissue as big as bones or whole organs, Independent reports. Large tissue is needed in order to help in treating humans for diseases and injuries.
Now, a team of scientists from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have found a way to grow tissues and supply them with a network of fine blood vessels by using the network of veins that already exist in plants.
Plants and animals exploit fundamentally different approaches to transporting fluids, chemicals, and macromolecules, yet there are surprising similarities in their vascular network structures,
the researchers wrote.
To make the heart, the scientists stripped the plants cells from spinach leaves until only the fine cellulose structure was left. Cellulose from plants is an excellent material for lab experiments, because it is compatible with living tissue and is cheap.
The team used spinach that they bought from the supermarket, because spinach has a high concentration of vessels similar to heart tissue, Science Alert reports. Joshua Gershlak, one of the researchers, said, “I had done decellularisation work on human hearts before, and when I looked at the spinach leaf its stem reminded me of an aorta.”
They washed the plant cells away by sending a detergent solution through the leaves to get rid of plant cells. Then they circulated fluids and microbeads that are similar to human blood cells through the spinach’s network of vessels, seeding human cells used to line vessels in them, as well.
Within a few days, the heart cells started to contract just like they would in human tissue.
Eventually, the scientists hope that the same process could be used to manufacture healthy heart muscles that can be used to treat heart attack patients.
Glenn Gaudette, a professor of biomedical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and author on the study, said, “We have a lot more work to do, but so far this is very promising. 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.”
The study was published in Biomaterials.