Researchers Use Spinach Leaf To Mimic Heart Tissue

Biomedical Engineering is one of the sub-fields of science that concerns with using machines and complex systems in the field of biology and healthcare. Like creating prosthetic body parts, to help in organ transplants, this field is gaining progress day by day. One of the biggest task the researchers face is in creating a network of tubes, which act as arteries and veins. Without a tubular network to carry blood and other fluids, the tissue can die. Till now scientists tried using 3D printing techniques, but failed. This technique is useful in creating bigger body parts , but faces difficulty in creating a network of tubes, the size of our veins and arteries.

“The main limiting factor for tissue engineering … is the lack of a vascular network”

-Joshua Gershlak, Wencestar Polytechnic Institute

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The process of removal of plant cells from the spinach leaf, leaves behind a cellulose skeleton or frame. This is then bathed in live human cells, to make it into a heart tissue, and then tested.

In a recent turn of events, researchers from Wincester Polytechnic Institute, headed by Glenn Gaudette, the professor of Biomedical Engineering, have successfully used a spinach leaf to function as a heart tissue. The results will be published through a paper in the Journal Biomaterials in May. The team used the network of vessels already present in the leaves to their advantage. By removing all the plant cells from the leaf, the team was left with  a cellulose frame, with all the branching tiny vessels. Cellulose is already used in  regenerative medicine applications like cartilage tissue engineering, bone tissue engineering and wound healing. This cellulose frame was then bathed in live human cells, which then covered the frame, and formed a sample of human tissue with a vascular network, a task which was not possible using the present 3D techniques.

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This picture shows the the leaf with plant cells removed, successfully transpoeting red dye and microbeads.

The leaf was tested by sending a red dye, with microbeads that behaved as blood cells, along with other fluids through its vessels. The leaf successfully transported the fluids through its vascular network, throughout the tissue, which marked the first big step towards the creation of a heart tissue. In future, this method can be improved to create bigger tissues, and perhaps even complete organs. The tissue itself can be used to replace the defective tissues of hearts of heart patients and those suffering from cardiac arrest, which prevents the contraction of the heart. The leaf successfully demonstrated that it could be used to transport oxygen to the blood too.

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“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.”

-Glenn Gaudette, Wencester Polytechnic Institute

Though the method of transportation of fluids in plants and animals is different, the physical characteristics of the structures can be used to the advantage of biomedical research. With the possibility to successfully transport body fluids through the tissue, the patients can be provided with better healthcare and more healthy tissues. Similarly other plant parts can be possibly employed to serve as counter options for developing animal tissues, like the wood cells can be used in bone regeneration. 

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A closeup of the spinach leaf mimicing a heart tissue

So spinach is not only healthy to eat, but also can help replace our defective tissues. The team is now working on making large scale organs, and carry more tests on the leaf and see if it can really be used to repair damaged tissue. Healthcare has a bright future after all. Happy Reading!

-The Cosmogasmic Person

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