Israeli firm prepares to ‘print’ kidneys and hearts

Researchers create an ink out of tobacco that could be used in 3D printers


An Israeli company says that it is paving the way for the “printing” of human organs, after receiving its first order for biological ink.

“The end product will be life-saving organs like kidney, pancreas, liver, lung and heart,” said Yehiel Tal, CEO of CollPlant.

“Our product will also be used for tissue, like cornea and skin, and complex implants, for instance to repair bone structure.”

CollPlant is not allowed to reveal which international biotechnology company has placed the order for its ink.

But speaking in general terms, Mr Tal said that the ink is expected to be used in devices resembling home printers.

“The ink is based on our collagen. It will work similarly to a home printer with cartridges. The printer will print layer-by-layer using the ink and the cells together, building a 3D organ. It will be moved to a bio-reactor that will mimic the human body.

“From there, after some time, you will get an organ.”

The image sent to the 3D printer will come from MRI scans of the patient, which will undergo processing.

The protein, or collagen, used for CollPlant’s product comes from an unlikely source: tobacco. “We call it tobacco that heals,” Mr Tal said.

He elaborated: “We introduce five human genes to the tobacco plant, and when we do so the plant becomes like a bio-factory that synthesises the proteins in a similar way that our body does.

“It mimics the body’s synthesis of proteins so the outcome is collagen which is a very good basis for making implants for repairing the body.” The genetically engineered tobacco is distributed to greenhouses across Israel, where it is grown to maturity, before being processed to an extract and purified.

The research for CollPlant came from Hebrew University, and the company’s advisory board includes big-hitting academics such as the Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Avram Hershko.

Mr Tal said that his ink will be ready for widespread use in five to eight years, and will help to fill a large gap.

“There is a shortage of organs like pancreases, liver and heart, and there are waiting lists. And in tissues there is a significant shortage which is growing. Maybe 10 million people worldwide are waiting for cornea implants.”

CollPlant’s is not the only ink aiming at this market, but Mr Tal said that it is the only one that does not come from animal origins, and that it will be compatible with 3D printers being developed by lots of different companies.

“Collagen from the tissue of an animal can carry disease like mad cow disease or could cause immune responses,” he said. “As ours is virgin, coming from a plant, it’s safer to use.”

The announcement of the order, combined with news that it has just raised $5 million in a round of investments, has left CollPlant buoyant, and its share price has doubled since late August. Currently floated on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, it plans to further its international ambitions by listing on the Nasdaq.

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