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In 2017, a team from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) grew a heart on the leaf of spinach. No, you didn't read that wrong. Here's how and why.
Firstly, why. Organ transplants have become much more common nowadays but with the influx of people needing them comes the problem of supply. If you need an organ that people cannot live without, such as a heart, you'll have an even harder time finding a donor than someone in need of a kidney. All and all 17 people die every day waiting for a transplant. The race to produce 3D printed organs has recently skyrocketed and while there's been a fair amount of success, there's been an issue of building capillaries small enough to have the capability of delivering oxygen and nutrients.
So this team turned to spinach, inspired by the fact that both plants and humans have surprisingly similar vascular systems. But why spinach? According to Joshua Gershlak, a graduate student who worked on the design of the experiment, spinach leaves' stem reminded him of a heart's aorta. Gershlak had already decellularized other plants, so he tried to replicate that for this project. That required a detergent but according to an interview, it was a simple project.
So, this team set up to flush out the cells of the spinach leaf, leaving (haha pun) just a semi-transparent framework of cellulose (a harmless substance that has already been used in multiple different applications in biotech). They then cultivated live human heart tissue onto it with the hope that, in real applications, they could use these leaves to replace dead or damaged cardiac muscles. This experiment was mainly just a proof of concept, but it did bring the promise that layers of these leaves could be grown together and then stitched onto a damaged human heart so don't scoff at this. One day, your life may be spared because of spinach. I guess now that puts you off of spinach for now.
*Disclaimer: All images belong to the WPI team working on the project and are not mine*