While the Tel Aviv University (TAU) team's 3D-printed heart doesn't actually work yet, it is the closest anyone has ever come to artificially replicating one of our most complex and vital organs.
The staggering development prompted Israel's Foreign Ministry to react, citing it as yet another exceptional example of Israeli innovation.
Researchers at Tel Aviv University printed the tiny vascularized heart in about three hours using cells and biological material from a patient. "In fact, this method allows us to print any organ that is required for a transplant and we believe that this method opens the door to future technologies, which will make the need for organ donors completely unnecessary".
"The cells need to form a pumping ability; they can now contract, but we need them to work together", lead scientist Tal Dvir told Haaretz. The engineered heart completely matches the immunological, cellular, biochemical and anatomical properties of the patient. Scientists mixed the differentiated cells to form bioinks, which were layered onto scaffolding using a specialized 3D printer to form a small heart.
Describing their work in Advanced Science, the research team started by taking biopsies of fatty tissues from abdominal structures known as the omentum in both humans and pigs. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women in the USA, with heart transplants being the only treatment available to those with end-stage heart failure. That allowed researchers to create complex tissue models including cardiac patches and eventually an entire heart.
The tiny organ, now only the size of a cherry, was engineered from the tissue of patients which was use to create a bio-ink.
"The biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection, which jeopardizes the success of such treatments", Dvir said.
Previously, only simple tissues - without the blood vessels they need to live and function - had been printed, according to a press release from the university. Dvir says. "Ideally, the biomaterial should possess the same biochemical, mechanical and topographical properties of the patient's own tissues".
In what could easily be confused for a story of science fiction, a team of scientists have just revealed that they've printed the world's first 3D heart using "ink" made of human tissue.
They hope in the next 10 years, organ printers will be in hospitals "around the world" and the procedures will be a routine practice. The paper is co-authored by Nadav Noor, Assaf Shapira, Reuven Edri, Idan Gal, Lior Wertheim and Tal Dvir of Tel Aviv University.