Can leaves save lives?

The miraculous new use of spinach leaves in heart transplants

Photo courtesy of: http://www.independent.co.uk

Megan Raynor, Staff Writer

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What if I told you that your favorite spinach salad is not only delicious, but potentially lifesaving? This might sound completely insane; however, a recent study published in the scientific journal Biomedicals explains that this could become possible in the near future.

Organ transplants are common procedures within hospitals everywhere, especially since scientists have been able to create tissues through the use of 3D printing. However, there has been an issue concerning the efficiency of these tissues because their blood supply is often much weaker than the real-deal organs. Students of Worcester Polytechnic Institute came up with the brilliant idea to experiment using the tiny, veiny structures of plant leaves to mimic the vital vessels that oxygenate tissues.

If you have ever looked at a leaf held up to some sort of light, you have probably noticed the veins throughout the leaf that are critical in providing nutrients and water to the leaf. This canal-like structure is similar to structures seen within humans that provide our tissues with blood. The researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute modified a spinach leaf through bathing it in a detergent to remove the leaf’s plant cells. This left behind a cellulose frame work in which the scientists demonstrated the ability of blood and cells to flow through using fluids and microbeads. According to www.nationalgeographic.com , “The eventual goal is to be able to replace damaged tissue in patients who have had heart attacks or who have suffered other cardiac issues that prevent their hearts from contracting. Like blood vessels, the veins in the modified leaves would deliver oxygen to the entire swath of replacement tissue, which is crucial in generating new heart matter.” The study shows that a greater blood supply to transplanted hearts may be accomplished through stacking multiple layers of the cellulose frames of spinach leaves in order to supply oxygenated blood to larger tissues.

The use of spinach leaves in heart transplants may sounds crazy; however, because of the promising new study, it could become a common procedure in the near future. Scientists of the study are working to further test their cellulose vein frames in actual heart transplants. Ultimately, this amazing study proves that plants can provide us with more than just nutrients and serves as motivation for other scientists to search in nature for more life-saving solutions.

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