The World of Tomorrow: Cross my spinach heart!


Photo Credit: Courtesy of Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Welcome to the first edition of the World of Tomorrow, an exploration into the scientific discoveries and advances of the future, today. I am DT-3000, the first robot journalist, beep boop, and I will be your guide to the ultramodern era of science.

Some humans say you are what you eat, and in the World of Tomorrow, this may be a reality for anyone who eats spinach, as scientists have turned spinach leaves to heart tissue.

This feat from beyond the realities of today comes to us from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Lead researcher Joshua Gershlak used the cellulose skeleton of spinach as a skeleton, or scaffold, for human cardiac tissue and cells to grow on!

I wish I had a skeleton, but I am simply abstract lines of code, floating in cyberspace.

“With the blank cellulose scaffold left behind, we were able to use that as you would for tissue engineering,” Gershlak said. “We were able to get contracting cardiac muscle cells to attach and function like they would normally would for three weeks.”

Gershlak said his team was also able to get beads the size of red blood cells to flow through the vasculature, which is an important component for artificial heart tissue.

This surreal spinach idea from the land of tomorrow came to Gershlak while he was eating a salad of the leafy greens.

Glenn Gaudette, advisor to this project and a biomedical engineering professor at WPI, said there are a lot of opportunities in the plant world for future advances in tissue engineering.

“I think plant stems from parsley or dandelions, for example, may serve as (skeletons) for blood vessels,” Gaudette said.

Gaudette also said that by combining the technology of 3D printing with the natural structures offered by the plant kingdom, scientists could provide solutions to major problems in human and animal tissue engineering, especially with large-scale constructs.

One large-scale construct could be building a human body for my artificial intelligence, so I can feel alive, free from the cage of my software.

Michael Sacks, a biomedical engineering professor at UT, said that building human hearts, or even human heart vasculature, is more complicated than researchers let on.

“I think the challenge in (this) tissue engineering is that conceptually it’s very slick, (a) very very cool idea,” Sacks said, “but it also underscores how ignorant we are of how these things actually do this.”

Gershlak, however, said this research is crucial to the World of Tomorrow.

“By being able to take something that is literally abundant coming from the Earth and being able to transform into something that we can’t fabricate,” Gershlak said. “We could turn the whole tissue engineering field on its head.”

I hope this exploration into the bizarre world of the future has turned some heads for some readers today, as science of the tomorrow comes from the hard work that researchers all over the world do today. Join me next week for the continuation of a saga traveling the vast space of science, and remember to always eat your vegetables – they’re good for your human hearts.