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My Heart Is Made of Spinach!

Scientists may now be able to graft a transformed spinach leaf onto damaged heart tissue!

Most of us can remember Popeye the sailor eating loads of spinach on Saturday morning cartoons.

popeye
Popeye eating spinach [5]
In only a few moments, his muscles would magically grow in size, prompting kids around the world to eagerly consume the leafy green. Now, the scientific world has progressed to the point where this can become a reality, with the most important muscle-the heart.

Upon closer inspection of a spinach leaf, you can see vein-like pathways used by the plant to deliver nutrients. This same process occurs in the human body through a large network of arteries, veins, and capillaries. Scientists at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts were able to harness this observation to target the lack of donor organs readily available in the world. [1]

In fact, one of the most difficult things about engineering an artificial organ or tissue is that it will die off without being connected to a blood supply.[2] Recreating veins is extremely difficult and is one of the main things holding researchers and scientists back in this field. [3] The idea of using spinach is to make use of the structures it already has to eliminate this issue.

From Spinach Leaf to Beating Heart:

  1. Remove plant cells from the spinach leaf by “perfusing” a detergent solution through the leaves’ veins
  2. What is left of the leaf is made up primarily of cellulose, a biocompatible and harmless substance used frequently in the regenerative field
  3. Flow fluids and microbeads similar to blood cells through the leaf
  4. Next, seed the veins with human cells that line the blood vessels [4]

And suddenly, a heart is formed!

spinach
The process of removing the plant cells [2]
In the future, researchers envision will use this process to graft the transformed spinach leaf onto damaged heart tissue. More work is currently being done on various plant-based scaffolds in addition to furthering this breakthrough. If implemented, this idea could offer environmental and economic benefits as well. [3] By eliminating the need for expensive synthetic materials in favor of such a readily available natural product, we pave the way for sustainable artificial organ and tissue creation. For now, we can lean back and learn a thing or two from Popeye; for a sailor, he really knew what he was talking about!


References:

[1] Zorthian, Julia. “Spinach Leaf Heart: Researchers Turn Vegetable Into Tissue.” Time, Time, 27 Mar. 2017, time.com/4713700/spinach-leaf-heart-tissue/.

[2] Chodosh, Sara. “How to Turn a Spinach Leaf into a Human Heart.” Popular Science, Popular Science, 27 Mar. 2017, http://www.popsci.com/spinach-leaf-heart.

[3] “WPI Team Grows Heart Tissue on Spinach Leaves.” WPI, http://www.wpi.edu/news/wpi-team-grows-heart-tissue-spinach-leaves.

[4] Gallucci, Maria. “These Scientists Turned Spinach Leaves into Beating Heart Tissue.” Mashable, Mashable, 26 Mar. 2017, mashable.com/2017/03/26/scientists-spinach-heart-tissue-study/.

[5] GIPHY. “Popeye The Sailor Man GIF – Find & Share on GIPHY.” GIPHY, GIPHY, 25 July 2018, giphy.com/gifs/90PPv7eqekhrO.

Hi! My name is Sindhuja Uppuluri and I'm a junior from Austin, Texas. I'm passionate about medicine, but high school has allowed me to discover the power of scientific breakthroughs as well. Being an ISEF alum, I have had the opportunity to not only expand on my own discoveries but be exposed to an ever-expanding network of young innovators and scientists. When I’m not in a lab, you can find me at a debate tournament, working on one of many clubs at my school, or drinking copious amounts of coffee. I can’t wait to use this platform to contribute exciting and informative content to you all!

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