Growing replacement tissues in the lab is currently assumed to require having a scaffolding system into which cells can be introduced. Synthetic scaffolds and decellularized animal tissues have been tried in the past, with varying levels of success, but using plants may turn out to be a better option. Plants offer a great variety of structures, which can be selected to match their use in specific applications, and already present a number of beneficial characteristics such as low density, porosity, and a high surface area.
At the University of Wisconsin – Madison, researchers have been seeding decellularized tissues gathered from plants, including orchids and lilac, with human cells. The investigators first remove all cellular content from a piece of plant and then chemically treat it so that living human stem cells can survive within the empty scaffold. The stem cells naturally orient themselves to fit the grain of the original plant’s structure and make it their home, differentiating into a target type and growing to fill the scaffold. Different orientations of the plant’s interior structure leads to different results, so finding a plant that works well for a certain application is key.
So far the researchers have been able to keep cells living within the plant derived structures, but trying these tissues in animals is yet to be tried. There’s high hope that they will work and are expected not to be rejected.