Yes, you heard that right. Spinach is good for the heart.
Tissue engineers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) are now using spinach plant cells to stimulate blood flow and boost heart performance in donor organs.
WPI Engineers Glenn Gaudette and Joshua Gershlake addressed the growing concern for donor organ shortages in the U.S. The lack of healthy organs has led to an average of two dozen deaths per day. Meanwhile, there are over 100,000 people across the country waiting for heart transplants.
The discovery of spinach as a catalyst for healthy hearts comes at a time when developers have yet to engineer the perfect artificial heart.
“One of the big problems in engineering heart muscle is getting blood flow to all of the cells,” explained Gaudette. “Heart muscle is pretty thick. Current technology cannot construct tissue dense enough to replace a damaged heart while also allowing for the tiny blood vessels needed to deliver life-giving oxygen.”
The two WPI scientist are working on a method that grafts organic spinach cellulose with cardiac muscle cells. Recent tests have indicated that heart muscle cells begin to show activity after the spinach cell injection. In essence, the individual human cells contracted on spinach left at the molecular level.
It was enough to get the ball rolling with further research that Gaudette and Gershlake are pursuing. Although similar tests have also been performed using tissue from apples, Gershlak and Gaudette are the first engineers to use the technique to repurpose plant cells.
“Long-term, we’re envisioning implanting a graft in damaged heart tissue,” Gaudette said. “If we stack decellularized leaves, can we create a large thickness more along the thickness of a human heart wall?”
Medical Advancements Will Stimulate Accelerated Plant Growth
As researchers continue to make plant-related medical breakthroughs, the demand for plants will continue to increase. Corporations and farmers will discover new ways of mass-producing vegetation by utilizing controlled environment agriculture.
The indoor agricultural movement has grown significantly due to the need for sustenance in urban areas. The medical world will fuel even further growth. Controlled environments will incorporate LED lighting systems, hydroponics, and vertical farming to meet the demand.
Instead of creating indoor facilities in urban areas, growers will be able to set up greenhouses and vertical farms in any location including moving their operations closer to medical centers where heart transplants frequently occur.
Although there’s much speculation as to when all this will take place, engineers and developers should have an infrastructure already in place due to the rise of urban agriculture. All they will need to do is shift the focus to the medical industry to aid organ donors recipients.
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