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Trial Shows Engineered Plant Product Heals Wounds

Tobacco plants

Tobacco plants (Beeki, Pixabay)

11 Mar. 2019. A small-scale clinical trial shows synthetic human collagen derived from engineered tobacco plants promotes closure of lower-limb wounds, often difficult to heal. The study, conducted in Israel, tested a wound-healing product made by regenerative medicine company Collplant Ltd, and reported last month in the journal Wounds.

Collplant, in Ness Ziona, Israel, develops an engineered form of human collagen called rhCollagen, short for recombinant human collagen. The company makes rhCollagen from tobacco plants engineered with 5 human genes, which take about 8 weeks to grow. While tobacco is associated with many harmful health outcomes, it is a fast-growing plant, often studied in labs as a model species. Extracting, processing, and purifying the tobacco leaves, says CollPlant, returns a pristine form of human collagen — the most abundant protein in the body found mainly in skin, bones, and and muscles — that performs better and without harmful immune responses than collagen derived from animal and even human tissue.

Further processing of rhCollagen makes it possible to derive products for tissue engineering, including a product called VergenixFG for healing lower limb wounds often considered difficult to treat. These chronic and acute wounds include foot ulcers suffered by people with diabetes, pressure ulcers faced by people in long-term care, and wounds from traumatic injuries and surgery. VergenixFG — the FG stands for flowable gel — is delivered as a powder then mixed with a saline solution and delivered with a syringe to form a gel that fills the wound area, and covered with a standard dressing.

The company says VergenixFG provides a scaffold for cells and blood vessels to grow from surrounding tissue to close the open wound. Only one application of VergenixFG is required, says Collplant, which reduces the healing time and prevents infections.

The clinical trial recruited 20 participants at 5 Israeli hospitals with slow-healing lower-limb foot ulcers from diabetes or other chronic conditions, as well as patients treated for traumatic injuries or wounds from surgery. Participants had an average age of 63 years, and 80 percent were male. All participants were treated with a single dose of VergenixFG; no comparison group was used. The study team of physicians, all independent from Collplant, followed participants for 4 weeks, photographing and measuring wound sizes during that period, as well as assessing amount of pain experienced by patients, and tracking adverse events.

The results show after 4 weeks, half or more of the 20 participants experienced wound closure of at least 94 percent, with 15 of the 20 participants displaying 70 percent or more wound closure. Nearly half, 9 of 20 participants, achieved complete wound healing. No adverse effects related to the treatments were reported during the trial, although a participant experienced an infection, which the researchers say healed on its own. In addition, one participant failed to respond to the treatment.

“This study,” says Collpant CEO Yehiel Tal in a company statement, “conducted by an independent group of physicians, demonstrates that a single application of VergenixFG yields remarkable wound closure results. Furthermore, comparing this study to other published studies conducted with animal-derived collagens reveals that VergenixFG is more potent.”

Collplant also formulates its synthetic tobacco-derived collagen into bio-inks for 3-D printing. As reported by Science & Enterprise in October 2018, the company Lung Biotechnology in Silver Spring, Maryland is licensing Collplant’s bio-inks to help create 3-D printed lungs for transplantation.

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