Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

George D. Pins, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Pamela J. Weathers, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

William Murphy, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Lior Gepstein, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Tanja Dominko, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Glenn R. Gaudette, Advisor




Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for approximately 25% of total deaths. Myocardial infarction (MI) is an extreme case of cardiovascular disease where ischemia leads to irreversible tissue necrosis. As the heart lacks the capacity to endogenously regenerate, the infarcted region is negatively remodeled, reducing cardiac function. Current therapies are not able to regenerate cardiac function post-MI, requiring novel approaches such as tissue engineering. However, there are three major pitfalls that are currently limiting the clinical translation of a tissue engineered cardiac patch: lack of proper vascularization within the tissues; biocompatible material; and lack of electrical integration between engineered tissue and host. The research within this dissertation aimed to engineer solutions to overcome these three pitfalls.

Plants and animals exploit fundamentally different approaches to transporting fluids, yet there are surprising structural similarities. To take advantage of these similarities, we looked across different kingdoms and investigated whether plants and their innate vasculature could serve as perfusable scaffolds for tissue engineering. Standard perfusion decellularization techniques were adapted and applied to spinach leaves, which were found to be fully devoid of DNA following processing. Leaf vasculature remained patent post-decellularization and supported transport of various sized microparticles. Human cells successfully seeded onto and inside the plant scaffolds. Decellularized leaves were found to be nearly void of any cytotoxic affects. Leaf biocompatibility was then investigated in vivo through subcutaneous implantation in a rat model. Leaf scaffolds were found to be biocompatible after 4 weeks of implantation. Furthermore, leaves that were pre-functionalized with an RGD-dopamine peptide were fully integrated into the host tissue within one week. This shows the leaf scaffold’s potential to be an immuno-modulatory material, depending upon the intended application.

Electrically conducting biofibers were engineered through the combination of fibrin microthreads and engineered conductive HEK293 cells. Biofibers could act as a modular platform to allow for electrical integration between the host tissue and any engineered cardiac patch. Biofibers directionally carried electrical current and were found capable of bridging electrical signal between two separate clusters of cardiomyocytes. In vivo investigation bridging a biofiber from the left atria to the left ventricle was accomplished in a rat model. Electrical maps demonstrated a visible accessory pathway that created a feedback electrical signal from the ventricle to the atria through the implanted biofiber. These results demonstrate electrical integration in vivo between host myocardium and the engineered biofiber.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Biomedical Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





cardiac tissue engineering decellularization plant scaffold clinical translation