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:

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