Scientists Create ‘Spinach Heart Tissue’ To Solve Heart Problems, Organ Damage

The human heart with its intricate network of blood vessels

For the first time ever, scientists have created a working and beating human heart tissue by just using spinach leaves.

Scientists and researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts just gave new meaning to spinach being heart-healthy. In the research news released by Science Daily, scientists have finally created “spinach heart tissue” that could be the key to aid in tissue regeneration. With its success, people with heart problems and organ damage can now be given a possible cure to properly address their medical problems.

Growing a working vascular system has always been the problem in the success of tissue engineering. For years, scientists have been more successful at creating large human tissues with more advanced methods like 3D printing than growing delicate blood vessels that are essential to tissue growth to help repair damage tissues and organs.

Joshua Gershlak, a graduate of WPI in Massachusetts and co-author of the study emphasized the importance of a vascular network in proper tissue growth.

“The main limiting factor for tissue engineering is the lack of a vascular network. Without that vascular network, you get a lot of tissue death.”

Without the capillary vessels, tissues that do not have enough oxygen and nutrients to grow properly die – a major reason why studies and experiments on tissue regeneration often fail.

Since 3D printing cannot duplicate the delicate vessels found in organs, the researchers at WPI turned to using plants instead, specifically spinach. None of the attempts have been successful until researchers at WPI decided to use leaves and made “spinach heart tissue.”

During the experiment, the researchers at WPI used a spinach leaf and performed decellularization – a process wherein plant cells are stripped using a detergent – leaving the spinach leaf to become just a flap of cellulose with its vasculature or network of veins intact. The scientists were then able to culture live and beating human heart cells into the spinach veins by injecting microbeads of fluids that mimic the size of blood cells in humans.

With the help of decellularization, the spinach leaves with its vasculature provided just the right branching network for proper blood flow. The study proved that tissue regeneration is possible as long as the right vasculature is present to encourage healthy tissue growth.

By regenerating healthy tissues, various diseases and even traumatic injuries can now be treated. Broken bones can be repaired. Those with heart disease and cardiovascular problems can be cured. Tissues can be grown to become a full organ that can replace a damaged one.

With the development of the spinach heart tissue, patients with cardiovascular problems – especially those who suffered from heart attacks – will benefit the most.

Glenn Gaudette, one of the professors of biomedical engineering at WPI and co-author of the study, said that the goal of their team is to create cardiac muscles that will help patients with damaged heart tissues.

“What we’re trying to do is grow cardiac muscle on these leaves which then can be profused with a blood source by the veins that are inside the leaf. And so we can, in theory, sow those veins into the native arteries in the heart and produce a contractile muscle that can replace the dead tissue in the heart.”

Gaudette’s statement leaves room for thought that several spinach leaves can then be used to grow new heart tissues that can fully develop into new heart muscles. When this happens, heart attack victims will have a higher chance of surviving and recovering. Others with organ damage can have higher chances of surviving, too, with the help of newly-grown tissues to help their organs repair.

Heart operation

It’s not just spinach leaves, though. The team of scientists and researchers at WPI also used other plants after they found out that the process also works with them. As the researchers pointed out, the process “turned out to be pretty easy and replicable” in different plants.

So far the team had used parsley, tried it on the hairy roots of peanut and even tried sweet wormwood, which is an herb. Each plant can be used for specialized studies with regards to tissue regeneration. When it comes to heart tissue, though, spinach is still the best plant to use thanks to its highly-vascularized characteristic similar to cardiac tissue. The team of scientists also suggested using wood for bone engineering given the relative strength and geometry of its vascular columns.

In an article published by National Geographic, Gaudette said in press statement that there is still a lot of work to be done in their study, but the promise of the initial results is something to look forward to, especially for patients with heart problems and damaged organs.

Check out the video below to know more about the spinach heart tissue research. What do you think of this medical breakthrough? Sound your thoughts in the comments section right below.

[Featured Image by Yodiyim/Shutterstock]