Israeli scientists from Tel Aviv University have created the first 3D printed heart, complete with blood vessels and human tissue. The sample is about the size of a rabbit’s heart, but already means huge progress for the medical field.

The research team working on this technology is hoping to set the stage for the creation of a complete and functional first 3D printed heart that would help the millions of people waiting for heart transplants.

The Lead researcher Tal Dvir mentioned that although it’s not the first-ever 3D printed heart structure, the team is the first to include cells, blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers. “Our results demonstrate the potential of our approach for engineering personalized tissue and organ replacement in the future,” Dvir said in an interview.

The next step, according to the team, will be to “cultivate the organs in a lab” and “teach them to behave.” Some of these models can contract, so it looks like it’s a ready and beating heart, but Dvir says that the cells must still form a pumping ability.

“Maybe, in ten years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely,” Dvir continued.

Eventually, the team plans to test the hearts in animal subjects.

To create the first 3d printed heart with tissue, the team used fatty tissues from humans. They reprogrammed the cellular material to make stem cells. “The remaining extracellular material ― including molecules such as collagen, a protein that supports cell structure ― was processed into a hydrogel. The researchers used the hydrogel as a printing “ink,” according to the Huffington Post. The tiny heart they created now has the immunological, cellular, biochemical and anatomical properties of a specific patient.

“This method is crucial to eliminating the risk that the implant will be rejected by the patient’s body,” Dvir explained. “This heart is made from human cells and patient-specific biological materials. In our process, these materials serve as the bioinks, substances made of sugars and proteins that can be used for 3D printing of complex tissue models.”

According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States – and many other countries are catching up thanks to a market oversaturated with unhealthy eating options (among other preventable issues). In the US, around 610,000 people die every year from heart disease, which is 1 in 4 patients. Many die waiting for a heart transplant.

The cost of healthcare is still a huge issue, along with certain medical methods that the US government doesn’t approve of. Developments in technology like this are a great step, considering how many “heart-warming” stories we have of students and individuals creating their own solutions to healthcare.

A heart transplant is currently the only treatment for people with end-stage heart failure. There’s a certain urgency when it comes to the ability to create organs, considering the donor list is short.

Research for the study was conducted jointly by Prof. Dvir, Dr. Assaf Shapira of TAU’s Faculty of Life Sciences and Nadav Moor, a doctoral student in Prof. Dvir’s lab.