In a recent study, scientists at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts have found a way to use spinach to build working human heart muscle, potentially solving a long-standing problem in efforts to repair damaged organs. This study aims at bringing in new systems of developing a vascular system, which has been a roadblock for tissue engineering.
Scientists have already created large-scale human tissue in labs using methods like 3D printing. However, it is much harder to grow the small, delicate blood vessels that are vital to tissue health.
Joshua Gershalk, one of the co-authors of the paper pointed out in a video about the work, “The main limiting factor for tissue engineering … is the lack of a vascular network.” A lot of tissue death takes place if the vascular system is not developed.
The scientists have made use of the vascular system of the plants to replicate the way blood moves through human tissue. The work involves modifying a spinach leaf in the lab to remove its plant cells, which leaves behind a frame made of cellulose.
The authors point out in their paper that cellulose is biocompatible and that it has been used in a wide variety of regenerative medicine applications, such as cartilage tissue engineering, bone tissue engineering, and wound healing.
The remaining scaffolding of the spinach leaf was then bathed in live human cells so that the human tissue grew on it and surrounded the tiny veins. The spinach leaf was subsequently transformed into a mini heart; the team sent micro beads and fluids through its veins to show that blood cells can flow through this system.
The eventual goal would be to restore the damaged tissue in patients who have had heart attacks or who have suffered other cardiac issues that prevent their hearts from contracting. The veins in modified leaves would deliver oxygen to the entire area of the replacement issue – this is crucial in generating new heart matter.
The study team claims that the same methods could be used with different types of plants to repair a variety of tissues in the body. For instance, swapping out the cells in wood might one day help fix human bones.
Saying that they have a lot more to do, Glenn Gaudette, also of WPI, stated in a press statement, “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.”