March 26, 2017

Editorial: Naturally, WPI researchers pump hope into biomedical advancement

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Flickr / by Stephens

Spinach leaves -- a key ingredient in a promising biomedical advancement made at WPI.

Most of us see a spinach leaf as something to eat (or not).

Imagine the leap it took for someone to see it as the solution to a biomedical research dilemma.

That leap is spurring astonishing research in labs at WPI and two more U.S. college campuses.

The key is in the veins, the complex network visible in any plant leaf held to the light. Those countless interconnected tubes of varying size transport water, nutrients and other materials to and from the plant’s stem.

It’s reminiscent of the human circulatory system. And therein lies an improbable idea that just might work.

Biomedical scientists have been wondering how they could scale up regenerative tissue research to the point that someday, organ tissue with a built-in vascular system could be implanted in humans suffering from disease or traumatic injury. A heart attack victim, for example, in whom some heart tissue has died, could receive a graft of lab-grown, beating, vascularized human heart tissue.

Though that goal is still a long way off, it’s a significant step closer thanks to the engineering genius of nature — and to the insight and hard work of researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Arkansas State University-Jonesboro.


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