Scientists find a new substitute for human heart tissue — spinach

Good morning, Maine. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

Scientists convert spinach into heart tissue

The Washington Post reports that researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts have found a surprising new substitute for human heart tissue — spinach leaves.

The tissue engineers, as they reported recently in the journal Biomaterials, stripped green spinach leaves of their cells. The spinach turned translucent. The scientists seeded the gaps that the plant cells left behind with human heart tissue. Heart cells, in clusters, beat for up to three weeks in this unusual environment.

Bioengineer Glenn Gaudette said the study could be the foundation for stitching the veins of spinach leaves to human blood vessels.

“Long term, we’re definitely envisioning implanting a graft in damaged heart tissue,” he told The Post’s Ben Guarino.

It give a whole new meaning to “heart healthy.”

[Scientists convert spinach leaves into human heart tissue — that beats]

Your weather update for Monday, March 27, 2017

The morning commute is going to messy for driver’s in southern Maine, but the drive home isn’t going to be any better for those of us in eastern and northern Maine.

The BDN’s Nok-Noi Ricker reports that the light snow that fell this morning will become sleet and freezing rain as the day progresses.

“We’ve got precipitation falling in the Bangor area right now producing snow, sleet and freezing rain,” meteorologist Priscilla Farrar of the National Weather Service Caribou said shortly after 6 a.m. “It will become more widespread as the day goes on bringing a wintry mix of precipitation.”

[Snow, freezing rain to make for slick commute across Maine]

As the wintry mix moves across the state, visibility will be reduced to 10 miles or fewer across much of the state. In Portland, the visibility was down to about 4 miles.

The weather service has much of northern and eastern Maine under a winter weather advisory until 10 p.m. as the storm moves through. So take it slow when you hit the road this evening.

Trump threatens to bypass House Freedom Caucus on tax reform

Reuters reported on Sunday that the White House has threatened to leave the House Freedom Caucus out of talks over proposed tax reform after the group of hardline conservatives scuttled a health care bill on Friday.

[White House may bypass hardline conservatives on tax reform]

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said on “Fox News Sunday” that President Donald Trump may seek to build a broad coalition on tax reform that could include moderate Democrats.

Trump failed to win over the hardline conservatives to get the votes needed to pass a GOP plan to replace the Obama-era Affordable Care Act. Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan have suggested that there won’t be any renewed effort to replace the law for the foreseeable future and will move ahead with plans to pass tax reform.

But after the failure last week of the health care bill, some observers have cast doubt on whether Ryan and Trump can pass tax reform in the ideologically divided Congress, saying a deal on tax reform could be even harder to reach.

A Maine woman who protects the dying can barely afford to live

The BDN’s Maine Focus team has found that those health professionals who take care of the aging in Maine are struggling with low wages even as demand for their services increases.

Maine Focus writer Rosie Hughes reports:

Salena Sawtelle needs a new pair of work shoes.

From 6:15 a.m. until 2:45 p.m. each day, she walks miles, back and forth through the rooms of the eight elderly residents under her watch at Stillwater Health Care nursing home in Bangor.

As a certified nursing assistant, or CNA, she helps the residents shower, eat and use the bathroom. She changes their diapers, sheets and clothes. She rubs lotion on their 80- or 90-year-old bodies, and puts in and takes out their dentures. She helps them out of bed and into their wheelchairs, and out of their wheelchairs and into bed. This is just a fraction of what she does.

“It’s literally nonstop,” Sawtelle, 23, said at the end of her shift on Feb. 21.

As a result, the insoles of her black work clogs have flattened. Her feet ache.

But Sawtelle can’t afford a new pair of shoes, she said. She makes $11.37 an hour, or about $1,600 a month, which is barely enough to cover her monthly rent ($400), car payment ($233), car insurance ($135), phone plan ($45) and other bills. Most weeks she has about $50 left over for everything else, including groceries and gas.

The work is so stressful and the pay so low that even though she loves her job — and her supervisors say she has a gift for it — Sawtelle has considered quitting or moving to Massachusetts where the pay is better.

Maine cannot afford to lose Sawtelle.

[A Maine woman who protects the dying can barely afford to live]