Animals aren’t the only living organisms with veins. If you’ve ever seen a leaf, you’ve probably guessed that most plants also use vein-like structures to draw water up into their branches and leaves. Now, a new study suggests that scientists may be able to harness these naturally occurring plant-veins as an alternative to our own organic matter.
There are already several ways to create human tissue to be implanted into our bodies. Growing tissue from stem cells and 3D printing have both worked in the past. But our bodies have many kinds of veins and arteries, from the large ones you can feel and see under your skin, to almost microscopic capillaries. These tiny veins are harder to create using the already available methods.
Scientists may have found an ingenious solution to this problem using plants. Spinach leaves, like the human body, have tiny, delicate veins that they use to transport water and nutrients. A new study in Biomaterials showed that that scientists can remove all of the plant cells holding the structure together, leaving just the cellulose scaffolding. This theoretically would make it possible to use these veins in the human body.
“Cellulose, which is the most abundant component of plant cell walls, is a well-studied biomaterial for a variety of clinical applications,” the study’s authors write. “Cellulose is biocompatible and has been shown to promote wound healing.” It’s also been shown that implanting cellulose scaffolds into mammalian flesh allows mammal cells to grow into the formerly plant-based material and multiply normally. This is exactly what happened in the study: human heart cells grew around cellulose scaffolding and were able to draw fluid through the veins.
This new technique could represent a major breakthrough for patients who have damaged cardiac tissue, as a spinach-vein scaffold could allow their body to draw desperately needed oxygen into those areas. It also suggests a new twist for ideas of transhumanism—perhaps the future won’t be the realm of traditional cyborgs, but plant-human hybrids.
This article was originally written for and published by Popular Mechanics USA.