Scientists have tried many different methods such as 3D-printing to create the tiny network of blood vessels that exists in humans, but all previous attempts had been unsuccessful. Until now, that is — Researchers have managed to turn plants, particularly spinach, into tissue that could be used to grow layers of healthy heart muscle in order to treat heart attack patients.
Despite previous failures, researchers are hopeful that using plants could be the way forward because they already have an established system of veins that thus far appear capable of transporting blood by means of a vascular system into new tissue. Plants and animals may deliver chemicals around their structure in very different ways, but the structure of the system they use for doing so are actually quite similar.
The authors of the study are scientists from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the United Kingdom and will be publishing their findings in the journal Biomaterials in May. In a statement released recently, the scientists claimed “the development of decellularized plants for scaffolding opens up the potential for a new branch of science that investigates the mimicry between plant and animal.”
The attempt to create a human heart began with the scientists stripping plant cells from spinach leaves using a detergent in a process called decellularization. From there they sent fluids and microbeads similar to human blood cells through the spinach vessels, then seeding the human cells that are used to line blood vessels into it. Of course, the technique is still in its infancy, but the researchers are very optimistic about their results.
“We have a lot more work to do, but so far this is very promising,” said Glenn Gaudette, professor of biomedical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. “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 are more than confident that this technique will one day be able to be used to grow and develop healthy human tissues and possibly even organs. There is also the possibility of being able to regenerate damaged body tissue such as that which happens during a heart attack.