No. I’m not asking what you’d like as a side dish with your Chicken Kiev or talking about a veggie that costs more at a farmers market. I’m talking about some pretty damned creative scientists who had the fancy idea to create beating human heart tissue using a spinach leaf as scaffolding. Scientists have been able to create large-scale human tissue using 3-D printers no less, but needed to find a way to obtain the small delicate blood vessels to support the tissue.
Like many why-didn’t-we-think-of-that ideas, the fact that leaf veins and small human capillaries perform similar functions makes the attempt seem natural in hindsight. The leaf veins indeed turned out to be capable of conveying blood-like fluid. The team1 removed the plant cells from a spinach leaf, leaving a frame of cellulose and bathed the structure with live human cells, simulating a mini-heart. Fortunately, cellulose is biocompatible with our human parts, and the leaves can be layered to the required thickness. There is much work still to be done, but results to date are most promising. I like this idea better than growing human tissue in pigs or other animals, and I’m not a vegetarian.
The ultimate goal, of course, is to create replacement tissue for hearts damaged by heart attacks, heart disease, or injury. The scientists who did the studies propose wood might be used to replace damaged bones some day.
I assume spinach was chosen because its vein configuration and size work best for heart tissue. It was the graduate researcher who noticed the main stem of a spinach leaf resembled an aorta. Presumably different leaves could be used for other parts of the body. Check out the leaves in your next salad.
- Joshua Gershlak, Glenn Gaudette, Taqnia Dominko, Pamela Weathers, Marsha Rolle of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and collaborating researchers at Arkansas State University-Jonesboro and University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Adapted from: (Check out the pix!)