Tel Aviv University has presented a prototype of a miniature heart, which scientists say is the world's first heart created with a 3D printer using human tissue.
'This is the first time anyone, anywhere, has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers,' said Professor Tal Dvir, who led the research, which he presented at a press conference on Monday.
Until now, the university said, scientists have been successful in printing only simple tissue without blood vessels.
Dvir stressed the importance of the heart's being made with a patient's own cells and biological materials in order to eliminate the risk of implant rejection.
The heart, which journalists were able to view during the approximately three-hour-long printing process, is roughly the size of a rabbit's heart.
'But larger human hearts require the same technology,' Dvir said.
The next step for the researchers is to culture the printed hearts in a laboratory and 'teach them' to behave like hearts.
The current state of the primitive heart can be compared to the heart of an embryo.
'The cells need to form a pumping ability; they can currently contract, but we need them to work together,' Dvir explained.
Once they have achieved that, the scientists plan to transplant the hearts into small animals, such as rabbits or rats.
'Maybe, in ten years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely,' Dvir said.
The World Heath Organisation said last year that ischaemic heart disease and stroke were the world's biggest killers.