Transforming Spinach Leaves Into Heart Tissue

Spinach Heart Tissue

Spinach leaf aiding in tissue regeneration.

Using the plant like scaffolding, research teams at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) built a mini version of a working heart, which may one day aid in tissue regeneration.  The Researchers have turned to the vascular system of plants to solve a major bio-engineering problem blocking the regeneration of human tissues and organs.

Current bio-engineering techniques, including 3-D printing, can’t fabricate the branching network of blood vessels down to the capillary scale that are required to deliver the oxygen, nutrients, and essential molecules required for proper tissue growth, instead the team has turned to plants!

Their published study highlights the way around the roadblock that has hampered tissue engineering to date.

In a series of experiments, the team cultured beating human heart cells on spinach leaves that were stripped of plant cells. They flowed fluids and microbeads similar in size to human blood cells through the spinach vasculature, and they seeded the spinach veins with human cells that line blood vessels.

These proof-of-concept studies open the door to using multiple spinach leaves to grow layers of healthy heart muscle to treat heart attack patients

“Plants and animals exploit fundamentally different approaches to transporting fluids, chemicals, and macro-molecules, yet there are surprising similarities in their vascular network structures,”

the authors wrote.

“The development of decellularized plants for scaffolding opens up the potential for a new branch of science that investigates the mimicry between plant and animal.”

Heart on Spinach


Using plants as the basis for tissue engineering also has economic and environmental benefits.

“By exploiting the benign chemistry of plant tissue scaffolds, we could address the many limitations and high costs of synthetic, complex composite materials. Plants can be easily grown using good agricultural practices and under controlled environments. By combining environmentally friendly plant tissue with perfusion-based de-cellularisation, we have shown that there can be a sustainable solution for pre-vascularised tissue engineering scaffolds.”

Growing muscle tissue from plant based scaffolds are certainly a significant step towards improvements in the medical field and in turn the future of a healthier population. Read more on the study via the researchers’ published paper titled ”Biomaterials”.