Scientists are developing artificial lungs for human transplants — using, of all things, a tobacco plant.
The tobacco plant is modified to produce a synthetic form of collagen, the fibrous substance that makes up the ‘scaffolding’ of many major organs.
The researchers found a way to genetically modify tobacco plants to produce large amounts of collagen almost identical to their own.
The collagen is transformed into a type of “ink” thats loaded into a 3D printer that produces artificial lungs by forming layers after the collagen layer of the replica. The lungs are then sown with the patient’s stem cells (extracted from skin samples), to develop them in a healthy lung tissue suitable for transplantation.
Tobacco: it turns out, is the ideal vehicle for growing collagen as the plant matures quickly — in just eight weeks — and could be used to mass-produce artificial lungs
The scientists hope the technique — which is still at a very early stage of development — could be used to mass-produce artificial lungs so patients needing transplants no longer have to wait the months, or even years, it can take to get a suitable donor organ.
It could mean that the same plant that caused millions of deaths through tobacco-related illnesses could be used to save lives.
Scientists have perfected the growth method of collagen in tobacco plants in just eight weeks. They take seedlings and add five essential human genes to the production of collagen. When plants mature, the leaves are collected and processed to make “BioInk,” a purified collagen extract liquid.
Now, a United States company is building a 3D printer capable of using the ink to create artificial lungs. Such printers were used to make human skin and retinas to the eye, but these are relatively small and thin weaves. Printing a more complex organ needs a machine as it is also able to handle the large molecules of collagen.
The prototype United Therapeutics uses stereolithography, where an ultraviolet laser is triggered with collagen grown in tobacco with photosensitive molecules.
As the light collides with collagen, “heals” and becomes solid.
So far, the company has produced only a small part of the pulmonary tissue, including part of the trachea (trachea) and the two bronchi that pass from the same to the lungs. The fabric has only a couple of inches in length. The researchers have not yet developed it in human lungs by working with stem cells that produce a healthy tissue ready for transplantation.
However, animal experiments suggest that this process is workable.
Throughout writing this blog, I have written medical posts, based on genetically modified plants. Scientists have developed a way of using unlikely material such as Seaweed for injected bandages, Spinach leaves into human heart tissue, and now “Tobacco plants” for artificial lunges transplants.
One of the most significant problems with printing human organs was the creation of blood vessels and ventricles. Making a solid mass of flesh was easy but adding a way to pump blood and other nutrients through the flesh was more difficult.
Now researchers at the University of Sydney, Harvard, Stanford, and MIT, have solved some of these problems by creating a skeleton of vessels and then growing human cells around them. Once the vessels are stable, they can dissolve the 3D printed material.
This technique allows researchers to build “organs” in the lab by growing cells on the network of capillaries. The researchers believe they will eventually lead to true organ regeneration.
Acknowledgments & References
Dr. David Weill, director of Stanford’s Center for Advanced Lung Disease, Dr. Jo,” Aquin Cortiella, an author of the study. United Therapeutics, is building a 3D printer capable of using the ink to create artificial lungs. Scientists from the Israeli biological company CollPlan