More than 4,000 people are on a waiting list for a heart transplant. More than 4,000 people are on a waiting list for a heart transplant. More than 4,000 people are on a waiting list for a heart transplant. (Photo: Africa Studio / Shutterstock)

A tech firm has just figured out a way to print organs

Scientists have injected human genes into tobacco plants. What happens next could literally be life-saving.

About 116,000 people in the United States are currently waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant. Another name is added to the national transplant waiting list every 10 minutes. With numbers like these, finding ways to get people much-needed organs has become a top priority.

In recent years, doctors have been working on regenerating body parts using a person's own tissue. Employing this technique, a Peruvian professor was able to create the first lab-grown organ, a bladder, to be implanted into a human.

Now CollPlant, an Israel-based tech firm, is taking that idea one step further. They've figured out a way to create organs without a human donor. All they need is tobacco plants. Yep, you read that right. So how does it work? Take a look at this video:

In greenhouses across Israel, CollPlant has injected tobacco leaves with five essential human genes. The genetically engineered plant then produces a collagen that's similar to young and healthy human tissue. As opposed to harvesting tissues from pigs or cows, this natural plant method is free of infectious pathogens and other allergens.

Using the company's proprietary bioInk, CollPlant believes it can 3D-print organs and tissues. They're already developing formulations for skin repair, orthopedics, ophthalmology, heart and lung. This fall, they announced a six-month agreement with a leading medical instruments company to develop a prototype biological implant. The goal for 2018 is to show how it can work with one organ, and then expand into other areas of the human body.

Tobacco leaves growing in a CollPlant greenhouse in Israel. Tobacco leaves growing in a CollPlant greenhouse in Israel. (Photo: Courtesy)

"We believe that our unique tissue repair technology may represent a potential paradigm shift in the field of regenerative medicine," said CollPlant CEO Yechiel Tal, who holds a Masters in Mechanical Engineering from the prestigious Technion Institute in Israel.

Oded Shoseyov, a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is the founder and chief scientific officer of CollPlant. “There are several companies, for example, developing ways to produce insulin in tobacco plants, but insulin is just a single protein. Collagen is much more complicated," he explained. "To produce it you have to synthesize five human genes, a very difficult feat. I don’t know of any other company that can do this.”

The process of turning a tobacco plant into a human tissue. The process of turning a tobacco plant into a human tissue. (Photo: Courtesy)

Other companies are also working on 3D-printing organs. Technology from Stratasys, a firm that produces cutting-edge 3D printers from its manufacturing headquarters in Israel, has been printing organs for the past several years. But those are not actual working organs. Instead, they're exact replicas and are used for modeling purposes to help doctors prepare for surgery. One such case involved helping a 5-year-old in Miami correct a rare heart condition.

Meanwhile, an MIT scientist is working on rebuilding human organs onto a computer chip. Find out more about his research in the video below:

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