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  1. Ethical Science News

  2. Mar 31, 2017

Plants Structures Help Grow Human Heart Tissues

Study in a Sentence: By removing plant cells from plant structures, like a spinach leaf, researchers discovered that the remaining vascular network structure can be used to grow functional, beating human heart cells from stem cells and is capable of delivering fluids and small molecules to these cells.

Healthy for Humans: This novel tissue regeneration method can scaled-up and adapted to grow many different kinds of human tissues and organs requiring vascularization in a cost-effective and nonanimal approach for scientific studies and regenerative medicine. The heart muscles grown by this method may be used to treat heart attack patients one day.

Redefining Research: The success of this novel bioengineering technique illustrates how major medical advances and victories over scientific or engineering challenges can be made when multidisciplinary scientists and engineers come together to think outside the box to come up with creative solutions. This discovery also opens the door for a new branch of science to study the anatomical and physiological similarities between plants and humans and the potential use of plants rather than animals for biological or bioengineering research studies. 


In this sequence, a spinach leaf is stripped of its plant cells, a process called decellularization, using a detergent. The process leaves behind the leaf's vasculature. Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) were able to culture beating human heart cells on such decelluralized leaves. Photo Credit: Worcester Polytechnic Institute.


  1. Gershlak JR, Hernandez S, Fontana G, et al. Crossing kingdoms: Using decellularized plants as perfusable tissue engineering scaffolds. Biomaterials. 2017;125:13-22. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2017.02.011.

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