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article imageHeart tissue grown on spinach leaves

By Tim Sandle     Apr 2, 2017 in Science
To overcome a problem of growing human organs in a laboratory, researchers have turned to plants to establish a vascular system that delivers blood deep into the developing tissue. Here beating human heart cells have been grown on spinach leaves.
Advances have been made with human tissue regeneration on a small scale. Progress to growing fully-functional human organs that could be used for organ transplants have been limited by recreating the vascular system, needed for the the transport of blood, on a large scale. This obstacle appears to have been overcome by researchers using the vascular system of plants as a bioengineering solution.
Scientists from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute have successfully used plants for the culturing of beating human heart cells. In a reported experiment, the scientists have cultured heart cells onto spinach leaves, where the leaves were stripped of plant cells and replaced with the human cells. The reason why this was necessary is because current bioengineering techniques, including 3-D printing, are unable to replicate the human vascular system, including the branching network of blood vessels down to the capillaries needed to deliver nutrients and oxygen to tissues.
While the physiology of plants and animals are, obviously, very different there is a remarkable similarity with their vascular network structures. The researchers worked out the if the cells can be removed from plant matter the decellularized plants can be used as scaffolding for human tissues. This was tested out in a proof-of-concept study whereby beating human heart cells were cultured onto spinach leaves stripped of their plant cells. The scientists were able to allow fluids and microbeads (similar in size to human blood cells) to flow through the spinach vasculature. The most complex part of the study was the removal of the plant cells; this was achieved by flowing or "perfusing" a detergent solution through the leaves' veins. The remaining material - cellulose - is biocompatible and causes no harm to human tissue.
READ MORE: A new scientific breakthrough leads to the production of mass produced, laboratory created blood, bypassing the need for blood donations
The success of the trial means that multiple spinach leaves could be used to grow layers of healthy heart muscle to treat heart attack patients.
The ground breaking research has been published in the journal Biomaterials. The research paper is titled "Crossing kingdoms: Using decellularized plants as perfusable tissue engineering scaffolds."
More about Stem cells, heart cells, human tissue, plant cells, bioengineering
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