Courtesy: Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Low in calories and packed full of nutrients, spinach is one of the world's healthiest foods. Besides its abundance of vitamins and minerals, researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute stumbled upon a new benefit very few know about. They were able to turn the leafy green into living heart tissue to provide a constant blood supply to organs.
Looking for a way to transport blood to lab-grown tissue samples, the team at WPI turned to plants, because of their surprising similarities to human vascular network structures. Whether it's spinach you pick up from the store or a maple leaf that just fell in your backyard, underneath the plant cells lies a fine, intricate structure responsible for holding the leaf together.
Rather than try and build a vascular system from scratch, researchers turned to the cellulose structure of plants, which studies show is compatible with living tissue. Since spinach has a high concentration of vessels similar to heart tissue, the leaves were simply stripped of their green plant material, a process known as decellularisation, using a detergent solution.
Next, the researchers implanted the leaf's vascular structure with the heart muscle cells. To everyone's surprise, a few days later the heart cells started contracting just like they would in human tissue. Although it has yet to be seen whether a plant vascular structure can be integrated with human heart tissue, researchers say it would be useful for patients who suffered a heart attack and have heart tissue that no longer contracts.
This isn't the first time plants have been used to help grow tissue. Last year, the Pelling Lab at the University of Ottawa used an apple slice to grow a human ear. However, the focus was not on creating a functioning ear, but rather an affordable structure on which to grow them.
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