It's around the size of a rabbit's heart, but it's still been called a breakthrough.
One day, scientists hope, we'll be able to manufacture hearts that can be transplanted into humans. A team of researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel has brought that goal closer to a reality.
The team successfully 3D-printed a heart using human tissue and vessels, according to their paper published in Advanced Science on Monday. While the heart isn't full-sized -- it's about as big as a rabbit's heart -- it still marks a breakthrough, the team says.
"This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers," Professor Tal Dvir, who led the team, said to local press. "People have managed to 3D-print the structure of a heart in the past, but not with cells or with blood vessels."
Scientists have found many medical uses for 3D-printing technology in recent years. Researchers at the University of Toronto are working on using such technology to print skin over wounds, and the University of Minnesota has developed a transparent mouse skull that helps its researchers to better understand brain activity.
The Tel Aviv team extracted fatty tissue from patients and used this as the "ink" for the 3D printing, a blueprint with which to create tissue models. While they still have some kinks to work out -- the heart can contract but not pump out blood -- they plan to eventually test out 3D-printed hearts in animal models.
"Maybe, in 10 years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely," Dvir said.