“Well blow me down!” It seems like Popeye might have been on to something! It was no secret that the sailor man himself ate spinach to make himself strong, but a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), the University of Wisoncon-Madison, and Arkansas State University-Jonesboro have recently developed a study that shows that spinach leaves could be the answer to creating heart tissues.
Although plants and animals have very different means of transporting water, their vascular networks, meaning their veins and flow path, are oddly similar. After performing several experiments the research team was able to find a system that develops the spinach leaves into beating heart cells. They begin by stripping the leaves of their plant cells, leaving cellulose, which is biocompatible (meaning it isn’t harmful to living tissue,) and then covering it with human cells that line blood vessels.
Glenn Gaudette, Ph.D., is a professor at WPI and one of the author’s of the paper written after the research was completed. Gaudette explains that “When patients have a heart attack, part of their heart wall no longer contracts.” Current treatments that there are for heart attack patients do not address the loss of contractile muscle. So, because spinach leaves have similar flow paths to that of human hearts, when they undergo the process the researchers have developed the leaves essentially become a tiny beating hearts. The spinach leaves are then layered to create healthy heart muscles for heart attack patients.
Not only is this method innovative, it is also economic and environment-friendly! Rather than using expensive synthetic materials, plants provide an organic alternative that can be grown quickly and easily. The team also suspects that they will be able to apply their method to other types of tissue regeneration in the future, like using columns of wood may be useful in bone engineering. Turns out veggies really could save your life.