With a few small tweaks, a spinach leaf can turn into human heart tissue

27 Mar 2017

Red spinach leaf. Image: Stewart Butterfield/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Offering great potential for heart repair, scientists have been able to transform a simple spinach leaf into working human heart tissue.

While science has shown that artificially creating organs could offer an answer to long transplant queues in the future, a more natural solution could allow us to simply repair portions of the damaged organ.

According to National Geographic, a team from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) turned to a simple spinach leaf, taking its complex vascular network and using it to transport blood around a human heart.

In a research paper published to the journal Biomaterials, the team explained that the leaf’s vein system, which is used to transport water and nutrients to its cells, can be significantly altered when these cells are removed.

By doing so, the team placed the leaf in a bath of human cells, which eventually resulted in the leaf’s structure and veins accepting the human cells as a host.

The leaf was then transformed into human heart tissue, which the researchers fed with fluids and microbeads, revealing it could accept blood.

Not just spinach leaves

Just like a regular human heart, the transformed spinach leaf proved it could deliver oxygen throughout the entire leaf.

The hope is that the organic material could be used as a way of replacing damaged heart tissue in human patients, particularly those who have experienced major cardiac events.

Also, the findings show that such a transformation of nature would not be limited to just the spinach leaf, but could allow for different types of plant to repair different tissues in the human body.

“We have a lot more work to do but, so far, this is very promising,” said paper co-author Glenn Gaudette.

“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.”

Red spinach leaf. Image: Stewart Butterfield/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic