• Carolina Serrano Larrea

A promising way to grow organs… using plants

Nowadays, we have hundreds of self-care creams, medications, and treatments for our health care, keeping us young, beautiful, and healthy. However, what happens when a part of our body is severely diseased or lost by trauma, congenital anomaly, or even cancer, in which conventional pharmaceutical treatments are no more applicable? Scientists and doctors are still in the race to find a cost-effective, convenient solution to this significant problem. The key here is the novel branch of biomedical sciences: Tissue Engineering.

The goal of tissue engineering is to restore, maintain, or enhance damaged tissues or organs by combining scaffolds, cells, and biologically active molecules (1,2). One of the main challenges to achieving this is to find the perfect scaffold for the cells to grow. As building a house requires accurate architect's drawings, good quality material, and communication skills to coordinate the work of different construction trades, so does building a tissue. (3,4)

Several techniques have been developed over the years to build the perfect matrix for the growth of our cells. Some of them are 3D printing, the use of biopolymers and biomaterials, and even more risky techniques, such as the use of scaffolds extracted from animals or human cadavers. Despite having solved the problems of biocompatibility, these promising techniques have a stratospheric cost, making it unaffordable to the population; besides, the ethical issues related to animal sources use. (4,5)

But since there are no barriers to science, and if Popeye the Sailor can use some spinach to make himself stronger, why cannot we use them as tissue scaffolds to put up a heart in them? Let me tell you that this is very close to becoming a reality with a technique called decellularization. In which, with the help of soap and water, all the cells of the leaves are removed to have the perfect scaffold to place new human cells and create a new tissue or organ, in this case, a heart in spinach leaves (6,7). But that is not all; imagine that you had a car accident, and you won't be able to walk again because it caused you some injuries in your spinal cord and nerves. Well, Andrew Pelling and his research team proposed a new solution that will cost pennies literally, the use of asparagus to mimic our spinal cord's shape and use them as a scaffold to regenerate new nervous tissue (8,9). It sounds impressive, right?

ertumnus is an oil painting produced by Giuseppe Arcimboldo in 1591 that consists of multiple fruits, vegetables and flowers that come together to create a self-portrait of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II.

I know that some readers could think: Ok, so the future of Tissue Engineering will make me look like the famous pain "Vertumnus"; of course not, you will not look like a fruit salad. Nevertheless, you can use a fruit salad to create, regenerate, and model our tissues, organs, and the human body, which is the future of tissue engineering, and why not, organ transplantation.


Regenerative medicine, tissue engineering, plant-based scaffolds, tissue regeneration

If you liked this article, I am sure you will enjoy reading the following articles related to tissue engineering and regenerative medicine:

  1. Plant Stem Cells - A Magic Wand In Cosmetics?

  2. A fish that might save lives

  3. Cosmetic product safety: Betting on the in vitro assays

  4. An unexpected transplant

  5. The power and challenges of CRISPR/Cas9 in treating cutaneous diseases

  6. Delving into The Era of Nanotechnology Pursuing Nanomedicine

  7. Plant Stem Cells – A Magic Wand In Cosmetics?



1. National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. What are tissue engineering and regenerative medicine? [Internet]. [cited 2020 Nov 27]. Available from: https://www.nibib.nih.gov/science-education/science-topics/tissue-engineering-and-regenerative-medicine

2. Akter F. What is Tissue Engineering? In: Tissue Engineering Made Easy [Internet]. Elsevier; 2016. p. 1–2. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/B9780128053614000011

3. Ikada Y. Challenges in tissue engineering. J R Soc Interface [Internet]. 2006 Oct 22;3(10):589–601. Available from: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsif.2006.0124

4. Williams DF. Challenges With the Development of Biomaterials for Sustainable Tissue Engineering. Front Bioeng Biotechnol [Internet]. 2019 May 31;7. Available from: https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fbioe.2019.00127/full

5. Contessi Negrini N, Toffoletto N, Farè S, Altomare L. Plant Tissues as 3D Natural Scaffolds for Adipose, Bone and Tendon Tissue Regeneration. Front Bioeng Biotechnol [Internet]. 2020 Jun 30;8. Available from: https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fbioe.2020.00723/full

6. The Henry Ford. Spinach Leaf Hearts | The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2020 Nov 28]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQwJ-nUrY-E&ab_channel=TheHenryFord

7. Gershlak JR, Hernandez S, Fontana G, Perreault LR, Hansen KJ, Larson SA, et al. Crossing kingdoms: Using decellularized plants as perfusable tissue engineering scaffolds. Biomaterials [Internet]. 2017 May;125:13–22. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0142961217300856

8. TED. This scientist makes ears out of apples | Andrew Pelling [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2020 Nov 27]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LPJrzZaoZg&ab_channel=TEDxTalks

9. Plant Scaffolds Support Motor Recovery and Regeneration in Rats after Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury.

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