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How Scientists Turned A Spinach Leaf Into Beating Heart Tissue

How Scientists Turned A Spinach Leaf Into Beating Heart Tissue

Vegetables are good for your health, but now there's a whole new way that one veggie can help your heart: spinach leaves can be used as a scaffold to beat human heart cells.

To address the chronic shortage of donor organs, scientists have been working on growing different tissues and even whole organs in the lab. They have already produced large-scale human tissue in the lab using methods such as 3D printing, but it has been much harder to grow small, delicate blood vessels that are vital to tissue health.

Researchers at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have managed to decellularize a simple spinach leaf and turn it into fully functional, beating human heart tissue. The spinach leaf matrix closely mimics the heart's vascular network, making it the ideal environment for seeding cardiac cells.

To create an artificial heart in the experiment, the researchers removed the plant cells from the spinach leaves, leaving behind only a cellulose frame. They then "seeded" the human cells into the leaves so that the human tissue could grow on the spinach scaffold and surrounded the tiny veins. Once the small leaves turned into a structure very similar to that of the human heart, scientists sent fluids and microbeads through their veins to show that the blood cells can flow through this system.

The researchers point out in their paper that cellulose is biocompatible and has been used in a wide range of regenerative medicine applications, such as cartilage tissue engineering, bone tissue engineering, and wound healing.

Researchers also maintain that the same methods could be used with different plants to repair various body tissues. For example, swapping cells in wood might one day help to fix human bones.

The experiment is believed to help solve the recreation of tiny, branching networks of blood vessels in human tissues. 

While such a breakthrough is still in the early stages, the team is intended a day when plant cellulose may be used to repair damaged organ tissue.

The research was published in "Biomaterials."

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