Scientists are able to grow human tissue in a laboratory, but that's far from being able to grow viable organs. One of the biggest problems is that working organs must be fed by a vascular system that carries nutrients through blood vessels, down to tiny capillaries that are hard to design, much less make. But nature may have a workaround in the form of plant cellulose.
One of the defining traits of a leaf is the branching network of thin veins that delivers water and nutrients to its cells. Now, scientists have used plant veins to replicate the way blood moves through human tissue. The work involves modifying a spinach leaf in the lab to remove its plant cells, which leaves behind a frame made of cellulose.
“Cellulose is biocompatible [and] has been used in a wide variety of regenerative medicine applications, such as cartilage tissue engineering, bone tissue engineering, and wound healing,” the authors write in their paper.
Once they had nothing left but the spinach leaf's cellulose framework, they grew living tissue over it and sent artificial blood through the veins. Read about the groundbreaking experiment at National Geographic. The results are promising.
(Image credit: Worcester Polytechnic Institute)