BMES members featured on Bill Nye show

Biomedical Engineering Society members Glenn Gaudette and Josh Gershlak were recently featured on the Netflix show Bill Nye Saves the World.
Gaudette and Gershlak discussed their research performed at Worcester Polytechnic Institute to use the vascular system of plants to solve a major bioengineering problem blocking the regeneration of human tissues and organs.

“Hopefully, the Bill Nye piece inspires people to be curious about the world around them and look for creative solutions to problems that are of interest to them,” said Gaudette. “In BME we are interested in improving (and maintaining) health. This is one example of how biomedical engineers can identify a health problem, in this case cardiovascular disease, and use engineering principles to overcome obstacles limiting advancements in the field. I think Bill Nye does a great job describing the engineering and science, while also demonstrating the excitement that comes with engineering.”

Current bioengineering techniques, including 3-D printing, can't fabricate the branching network of blood vessels down to the capillary scale that are required to deliver the oxygen, nutrients, and essential molecules required for proper tissue growth.

To solve this problem, a multidisciplinary research team at WPI, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Arkansas State University-Jonesboro have successfully turned to plants. They reported their initial findings in the paper “Crossing kingdoms: Using decellularized plants as perfusable tissue engineering scaffolds” published in the journal Biomaterials. 

Plants and animals exploit fundamentally different approaches to transporting fluids, chemicals, and macromolecules, yet there are surprising similarities in their vascular network structures,” the authors wrote. “The development of decellularized plants for scaffolding opens up the potential for a new branch of science that investigates the mimicry between plant and animal.”

In a series of experiments, the team cultured beating human heart cells on spinach leaves that were stripped of plant cells. They flowed fluids and microbeads similar in size to human blood cells through the spinach vasculature, and they seeded the spinach veins with human cells that line blood vessels. These proof-of-concept studies open the door to using multiple spinach leaves to grow layers of healthy heart muscle to treat heart attack patients.