We all know veggies are an important part of a healthy diet - but who knew they could also act as an essential stand-in within the cardiovascular system?

A team of scientists from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have successfully built working heart tissue out of spinach leaves.

While scientists could previously grow heart tissue in lab settings, they weren’t viable without a functioning blood supply, which would require extremely intricate tissue networks.

Enter every kid’s least favourite vegetable, which the scientists used to supply blood to a cluster of cultured heart cells.

“Plants and animals exploit fundamentally different approaches to transporting fluids, chemicals, and macromolecules, yet there are surprising similarities in their vascular network structures,” the researchers wrote in their Biomaterials study.

The team first used a detergent to scrub the photosynthesizing material from the spinach and were left with a nearly transparent series of leaves with their vascular networks still intact.

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Replicating Cells

The leaves were then infused with human heart cells, and soon enough, the cells replicated, proliferated and started contracting on their own – just like in a normal human heart. Calcium ions – which, when exchanged, keep the heart beating – were also noted.  

While the scientists haven’t yet succeeded in building a whole, working human heart out of spinach, this could prove to be a critical first step in artificial organ creation.

The team said their research shows the “potential of decellularized plants as scaffolds for tissue engineering, which could ultimately provide a cost-efficient, “green” technology for regenerating large volume vascularized tissue mass.”

Perhaps Popeye knew something we didn’t.

h/t IFLScience

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