You know what they say about the road to Hell…

I had the best of intentions to write my first “real” blog post (something more than just, hey, I’m here) to reflect a carefully prepared outline about the sorts of things I intend to cover here at Write Now. I had thought I would list out the broader categories you might find in these pages — all matters of heart, including: hearts in literature, movies, poems, songs and quotes; hearts in art and in stories (both fiction and nonfiction); hearts in other blogs; heart-related research/science; heartache, heartbreak, heart-related illness and death; and even hearts mentioned in obituaries.

But then there was this news floating around. I kept coming across it in my Internet travels over the last several hours, and it’s the exact sort of thing I would cover under the heading of heart-related research/science, so I figure, hey, let’s go with it.

It turns out that researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Arkansas State University-Jonesboro have successfully grown heart tissue on the stripped-down vasculature of spinach leaves. The proof-of-concept studies reveal a strategy for growing healthy heart muscle that potentially could be used to treat people who have suffered heart attacks.

As shown in the images below, the researchers decellularized a spinach leaf, stripping the plant cells from it using a detergent. The process removes the cells but leaves behind the leaf’s vasculature, which bears similarities to these structures in humans. The team was then able to culture beating human heart cells on decellularized leaves.

Credit: Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Today’s bioengineering techniques, including 3-D printing, are unable to replicate the branching network of blood vessels that are required to deliver oxygen, nutrients and essential molecules required for proper tissue growth.

The team suggests that the new technique may work with many different types of plants, with some better suited to provide the scaffolding for highly-vascularized tissue, like cardiac tissue, while others may contain geometries more useful to bone engineering or the growth of various other tissue types.

If further studies prove successful, the new plant-based approach potentially could overcome fundamental challenges and bioengineering problems currently limiting cellular, tissue and organ regeneration. Establishing a vascular system that delivers blood deep into developing tissue could accelerate the scale-up of human tissue regeneration from small lab samples to full-size tissues and organs.

The team published its findings in the paper “Crossing Kingdoms: Using Decelluralized Plants as Perfusable Tissue Engineering Scaffolds,” published online in advance of the May 2017 issue of the journal Biomaterials.

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