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New Technology Grows Organs From Salad?

Technology / New research has found that spinach leaves can be used as a scaffold for beating human heart cells. Researchers grew beating human heart cells on spinach leaves by perfusing them with a detergent solution, which stripped them of their plant cells. This proof-of-concept study suggests that multiple spinach leaves could be used to grow layers of healthy heart muscle that could one day be used to treat heart attack patients, the researchers believe.

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Glenn Gaudette, the study’s senior researcher and a professor of biomedical engineering technology at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Massachusetts stated, “We have a lot more work to do, but so far this is very promising. 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.”

The researchers also said they believe they could deliver blood and oxygen to developing tissues by pouring fluids through the spinach leaves’ veins. Joshua Gershlak, a graduate student of biomedical engineering at WPI and the study’s lead researcher stated, “When I looked at the spinach leaf, its stem reminded me of an aorta; so I thought, let’s perfuse [the fluids] right through the stem.”

The scientists said spinach leaves make a good scaffold because once the plant cells are washed away, a cellulose structure remains. The researchers wrote in the study, “Cellulose is biocompatible [and] has been used in a wide variety of regenerative medicine applications, such as cartilage tissue engineering, bone tissue engineering and wound healing.”

In addition to spinach leaves, the researchers also removed plant cells from parsley, Artemesia annua (sweet wormwood), and peanut hairy roots. The researchers said scaffolds from these plants, and perhaps others, could be helpful for other types of specialized tissue regeneration.

Although spinach leaves have many veins, making them a well-suited scaffold for heart tissue, other plans show promise for other medical uses. Namely, the “cylindrical, hollow structure of the stem” of the jewelweed plant could be used as a graft for an artery. Additionally, wood from trees “might be useful in bone engineering,” due in part to its strength, they wrote.

Plants such as these may provide economic and environmental advantages to the biomedical field. The scientists wrote, “By exploiting the benign chemistry of plant tissue scaffolds, we could address the many limitations and high costs of synthetic, complex composite materials.”

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