Spinach isn’t just good for your heart — it can be your heart. Well, kind of.
While researchers have found success using technology such as 3D printing to build more substantial parts of the human heart, they’ve had a comparatively harder time reconstructing the tiny blood vessels that heart tissue needs to function.
Spinach, according to researchers at Massachusetts’ Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), may help solve that problem.
Published earlier this month in the scientific journal Biomaterials, WPI researchers introduced a method — using spinach leaves — to grow more delicate parts of heart tissue.
They did this by purging the spinach leaf of its plant cells, leaving only the leaf’s veins and other scaffolding in place. The properties of this scaffolding, researchers say, can be used to transport blood in the same way that a human heart’s blood vessels do.
“Cellulose is biocompatible [and] has been used in a wide variety of regenerative medicine applications, such as cartilage tissue engineering, bone tissue engineering, and wound healing,” the paper’s authors wrote, according to National Geographic.
Once they purged the leaf of its plant cells, the researchers grew human tissue on the frame left behind by dipping it into a vat full of live human cells. These new cells are what allowed the researchers to convert the spinach leaf into a quasi-human heart.
The hope is that over time, this method will allow researchers to regenerate fragile heart tissue sorely needed by patients who have suffered from cardiovascular issues such as heart attacks — and perhaps lead to the use of other natural materials to repair other body parts in the future.
“We have a lot more work to do, but so far this is very promising,” study co-author Glenn Gaudette told National Geographic. “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.”