Enlarge / 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 decellularized leaves. (credit: Worcester Polytechnic Institute)
To create artificial tissue with functioning vasculature, tissue engineers looked no further than their salad bowls.
By peeling away the cells from a spinach leaf and seeding the cellulose matrix left behind with heart cells, researchers were able to create a beating sheet of human heart tissue—complete with a functional vascular system.

The proof-of-concept experiment, appearing in the May issue of Biomaterials, provides an intriguing plant-based approach to generating realistic tissues for grafts and transplants.
Vasculature has been a sticking point for bioengineers. Modern methods for creating artificial tissues and organs, such as 3D printing, haven’t included a good way to recreate the vital conduits. Yet the success (and survival) of any bioengineered tissue or organ hinges on whether it’s equipped with an extensive network of blood-carrying vessels, which drop off oxygen and critical nutrients to cells while flushing away molecular garbage.
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