The human tissue regeneration game has been upped a notch after scientists successfully grew healthy heart tissue on spinach leaves.
While other techniques – such as 3D printing – do exist, no other method is able to replicate the intricate network of blood vessels needed for tissue growth.
Although plants and animals have completely different means of transporting fluids, chemicals and macromolecules, scientists at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) turned to plants because the two also have surprising similarities in their vascular network structures.
The team stripped spinach leaves of their plant cells, leaving them with the vascular structure in which the human heart cells were to be grown.
Human cells that usually line blood vessels were then seeded into the branch network of the spinach leaves and left to successfully culture.
This method could be used to grow layers of healthy heart tissue to treat heart attack patients and potentially even other heart conditions.
Despite their success, the WPI team admit there’s a lot more research that needs to be done, including the possibility of using other decellularised plants.
Glenn Gaudette, professor of biomedical engineering at WPI, said: “We have a lot more work to do, but so far this is very promising.
“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.”