Sat. Feb 4th, 2023
In this sequence, a spinach leaf is stripped of its plant cells, a process called decellularization, using a detergent.  The process leaves the leaf's vascular system behind.  Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) were able to grow beating human heart cells on such decellularized leaves.
Enlarge / In this sequence, a spinach leaf is stripped of its plant cells, a process called decellularization, using a detergent. The process leaves the leaf’s vascular system behind. Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) were able to grow beating human heart cells on such decellularized leaves.

To create artificial tissue with functioning vasculature, tissue engineers looked no further than their salad bowls.

By peeling the cells off a spinach leaf and seeding the remaining cellulose matrix with heart cells, researchers were able to create a beating sheet of human heart tissue, complete with a functional vascular system. The proof-of-concept experiment, published in the May issue of Biomaterialsoffers an intriguing plant-based approach to generating realistic tissues for grafts and grafts.

Vasculature has been a bottleneck for bioengineers. Modern methods of creating artificial tissues and organs, such as 3D printing, do not contain a good way to recreate the vital lines. But the success (and survival) of any biologically engineered tissue or organ depends on whether it is equipped with an extensive network of blood-carrying vessels, which carry oxygen and essential nutrients to cells while flushing out molecular waste.

Although the vascular system of plants is fundamentally different from that of animals, the structures and cell access are similar. In addition, cellulose – the main organic polysaccharide remaining in decellularized leaves – is known to be biocompatible, i.e. it is safe for humans and is already used in other tissue engineering applications, such as wound healing. This sparked ideas among the study authors, led by bioengineers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.

“When I looked at the spinach leaf, the stem reminded me of an aorta,” Joshua Gershlak, first author of the study and a researcher at WPI, said in a news release. “So I thought, let’s perfuse right through the stem. We weren’t sure if it would work, but it turned out to be quite simple and reproducible. It works in many other factories.”

Basically, the researchers first pumped a detergent solution through the veins of the leaves, which removed the plant cells over several days. Next, the researchers pumped in cells that line human blood vessels so they could reline the leaves’ pipes. Finally, the researchers seeded the outside of the leaves with human heart cells, which took on their plant-based skeleton.

During a 21-day experiment, the heart cells started beating spontaneously, just like normal heart tissue. The researchers also found that fake blood could flow through the system. The researchers did similar experiments with parts of parsley and peanut plants.

This study is only a first step. The whole process needs to be optimized and further developed to create viable, resilient tissue for transplants. And it’s currently unclear how leaf-shaped tissue sheets might act as graft tissue or combine to create an artificial organ. Still, the researchers are optimistic and are going ahead with the idea.

“While further research is needed to understand future applications of this new technology, we believe it has the potential to develop into a ‘green’ solution relevant to a wide range of regenerative medicine applications,” they conclude.

Spinach leaves can carry blood to grow human tissues.

Biomaterials2017. DOI: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2017.02.011 (About DOIs).

List image by Worcester Polytechnic Institute

By akfire1

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