Scientists at Massachusetts’ Worcester Polytechnic Institute have used spinach to construct a working miniature heart. Scientists have been able to grow and construct large samples of human tissue in laboratories using 3D printing. There are, however, limiting factors to the construction using said method, namely, the challenge presented by difficulty in engineering a vascular network comprised of small and delicate blood vessels.
This is when the spinach comes into play. Plant leaves have systems of branching veins that provide the leaf with all the necessary nutrients. If the plant cells are removed the leaf’s vascular system comprised of cellulose is left behind. Since cellulose is biocompatible with human physiology, the scaffolding (base) of the plant’s vein can be used for new tissue. The plant structure can then be exposed to living human cells which grow around it and connect to the veins.
The plant veins are then capable of supplying the new human tissue growth with oxygen and other necessary nutrients as proven by the experiments performed. The scientists loaded red dye with small beads with a diameter of 10 microns (roughly the same size as red blood cells) and ran them through the plant vascular system.
Though the experiments were successful and the system worked, there is still much research and many improvements that need to be performed before anyone will get a heart made partially of spinach.
Scientists will need to figure out if the human body would even accept a plant’s vascular system. They would also need to make the system much stronger as it is relatively weak in its current state. Even though there are still many hurdles, scientists have proved that the concept can work and even be applied to different parts of the body. For instance, wood may be used to help fix bones.