Lung On A Leaf

University of Arizona researchers believe they may have found the next best testing ground for their work ... in the grocery store. Could spinach be the answer? Sounds like science fiction, but it's the latest convergence of biology and technology.

In a lab in Phoenix, scientists are turning spinach leaves into high-tech scaffolding for tissue engineering and disease research.

"The scaffold, the plant can be used to grow the cells, but also now all the veins and the stem of the leaf could be used as the vascular system," explained Frederic Zenhausern, PhD, MBA, Professor and Director, Center for Applied Nanobioscience and Medicine at University of Arizona

Frederic Zenhausern's team is creating a 3D leaf platform. First, they use detergents and a flushing system to decellularize the leaf.

"You need to remove the cells from the plant, be sure that there is no residue or component of the plant, and then be able to bring the human component to those scaffolds." Said Zenhausern.

Ken Knox, MD, Professor of Medicine and Immunobiology at University of Arizona College of Medicine, Phoenix, and Research Director, Lung Institute at Banner - University Medical Center, Phoenix sees similarities between leaf veins and lungs. Now, he's on the team that will eventually put lung cells on the leaf scaffold.

Dr. Knox said, "So our hope would be that we have this model that serves as a platform that we could take a patient's blood and test it in concert with the models such that it's very specific to that patient's responses."

That could be good news for Jim Franks, who has sarcoidosis. It causes inflammation in the lungs and is one of the conditions Dr. Knox is studying.

"it's really the dry cough and short of breath. And it does kick in if I do something really strenuous." Franks shared.

He loves the possibility of doctors finding treatments with the lung on a leaf.

"I like the idea that future generations that have this disease might, may have different treatments alternatives." Said Franks.

Dr. Knox says the team will have figured out how to consistently reproduce the leaf model in two years. At that time, he hopes to start testing therapies in their lung on a leaf.