U.S. scientists have successfully cultivated human heart tissue on spinach leaves, and managed to make it beat for up to three weeks in this unusual environment, the Washington Post reported.
Bioengineers Glenn Gaudette and Joshua Gershlak at Massachusetts Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) led this research and their findings are valuable to a deadly medical problem: the lack of donor organs.
Scientists have long been trying different methods, such as 3-D Printing and automatic electronic technology, to create artificial organs. However, so far none of those methods has been successful.
“One of the big problems in engineering heart muscle is getting blood flow to all of the cells,” Gaudette was quoted as saying by the Washington Post.
Instead of creating minuscule blood vessels, the researchers turned to the material that evolves in nature: spinach leaves, the vessels in which are similar to the blood vessels in a human heart.
“We use detergent -- soaps -- which strips away the cellular material of tissues,” Gershlak said.
The soap washed deflated spinach cells away. Cellulose, which is compatible to mammal cells, and intact leaf veins were left behind. Therefore, the frame of the leaves is reserved, waiting to be filled by mammal cells.
Then scientists seeded cardiac muscle cells into the vacancy left by spinach cells and after five days the muscle cells started to beat.
However, there are differences between an entire slab of quivering heart tissue and the heart-spinach hybrids.
First researchers have to make sure the hybrids won't be rejected by human body. They also need to make their hybrids thicker and stronger like real human heart walls.
“If we stack decellularized leaves, can we create a large thickness more along the thickness of a human heart wall?” Gaudette wondered.
In addition to spinach, WPI scientists have successfully removed cells of other plant species like parsley, peanut hairy roots and a kind of wormwood. They imagined that the structure of a piece of broccoli can function as the foundation for lung tissue.