Friday, June 30, 2017

The Creation of Human Heart Tissue using a Spinach Leaf

For ages, mankind has tried to find new methods to producing viable human tissue to use in organ transplants and tissue repair. As medical and healthcare technology advance, so do the methods we use. For example, organs can now be grown from tissue samples using a 3D printer. Each day, new ideas and methods are discovered. And as of a month or two ago, a new one was determined to be a successful option.

We can create heart tissue samples from decellularized spinach leaves. Yeah, the same leaves you sometimes have in your salads.

Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic University have discovered a way to turn spinach leaves into beating human heart tissue. Before, issues with growing viable blood vessels to support the heart were troublesome. It is very hard to manufacture or print such small vessels for the heart. “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. However, one of the characteristics of leaves are their extensive vein network that supplies nutrients throughout the leaf. If these veins could be altered to provide blood flow to a makeshift heart, then the heart would have an adequate supply of blood.

So the research team first took a spinach leaf and decellularized it, meaning that only the shell of the leaf remained (no plant cells were left in the leaf). Then the team bathed the leaf structure in human cells, which allowed the human cells to infiltrate the spinach leaf scaffolding and surround all of the structures within. After a period of time, the cells began to take on the structure of heart muscle tissue. Finally, the team injected red dyed fluid and micro beads to stimulate the flow of blood in the leaf veins.

The eventual goal of this study is to provide a new method to repair heart tissue in victims of heart attacks or other cardiac issues. The veins in the leaf would be able to bring blood to the affected areas of the heart, supplying key nutrients in keeping the heart healthy and building new heart tissue. The research team also mentioned that they would be testing this theory on other plants (for example, inserting human cells into wood might help provide some benefits in repairing bones). “We have a lot more work to do, but so far this is very promising,” study co-author Glenn Gaudette, also of WPI, said. “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.”

This new discovery may provide a cheaper and efficient way in repairing tissue and organ damage in the near future. Quite possibly, we may not have to rely on using other more expensive methods (3D printing, using a pig's heart, etc.) And even so, how cool would it be to say that a chunk of your heart is actually spinach leaves? I know, super weird to say, but it could very well be a possibility.

An article written on this paper can be found here at National Geographic:

A second news article by New Atlas can be found here:

The published research paper can be read here:

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Cannabis Related Treatment for Epilepsy Proves Effective

Marijuana treatment is a touchy subject in today's society. Many express approval for using medicinal Marijuana to help treat cancer and other mental diseases (Parkinson's, extreme stress, etc.). However, others share a discontent with the drug, stating that it is a drug with no benefit and should remain illegal. Even so, multiple studies have linked Marijuana to problems with the brain, including reduced memory, levels of psychosis, and increased levels of random neural activity, . On the other hand, the drug has been shown to increase brain connectivity between neurons, relaxation, and hunger. So from all of this, one simple question arises: is Marijuana (or specifically Cannabis) good for you or bad for you?

From a scientist's opinion, the pros outweigh the cons tenfold.

There have been countless studies that show the benefits of using medicinal cannabis to treat diseases in the past few years. One great example is a recent story about an 11 year old girl that was diagnosed with Febrile Infection-Related Epilepsy Syndrome (Fires). This disease only affects one in a million children, but it is extremely terrible. The patient usually suffers hundreds of seizures a day for a fortnight after contracting an illness, usually a cold or the flu. Annalise Lujan, from Tucson, Arizona, was struck with these seizures one day after participating in a gymnastics competition and was rushed to the hospital. From there, she was hooked onto a ventilator and put into a medical coma. In a new move, the Phoenix Children's Hospital sought approval from the FDA to use marijuana derivative cannabidiol (CBD) as a treatment to try and save the little girl. After 48-hours of treatment with cannabis, Lujan’s seizures stopped and she woke up. The treatment of CBD literally save the little girl's life. "She was afraid. She cried. And, I whispered to her that she was very strong, she's beautiful, and she's strong, and she needed to keep breathing, and she did,” Maryann (her mother) stated in a story written by Kashmira Gander for Independent.

As seen with this story, the potential for cannabis related treatment is incredibly great. A recent study done last week by Orrin Devinsky, a neurologist at New York University Langone Medical Center, and a few colleagues tested 120 children that were diagnosed with Dravet syndrome. This syndrome kills about 20 percent of those with this disease by the time they are 20. The patients were treated with CBD (or Epidiolex, as branded by GW Pharmaceuticals who sponsered this study). Half of the children were given Epidiolex while the other half were given a placebo. Over a span of 14 weeks, they found that CBD reduced the seizures from about 12.4 to 5.9 per month, while the placebo group went from 14.9 seizures to 14.1 per month. However, some children experienced some adverse effects, such as fatigue, diarrhea, and vomiting. 8 of the children withdrew from the study because of these effects. Nonetheless, the benefit of CBD treatment can be seen. "We now have solid, rigorous scientific evidence that in this specific syndrome, cannabidol is effective at reducing seizures," said Orrin Devinsky.

The evidence is all there, and it is coming from many different studies and stories; CBD based treatment is an effective method for treating epileptic seizures across different kinds of diseases. When adding this onto the benefits that are being found for cannabis based treatment, the argument for the legal use of medicinal marijuana (and even legalizing marijuana) gets even stronger. Looking at these cases, maybe it's time we start utilizing this form of treatment to its potential. We could be saving lives by doing so.

For more information, the story of Annalise Lujan can be found here:

The study done on children with Dravet syndrome can be found here:

The original research article for the above study that was published by The New England Journal of Medicine can be found here: