Scientists at Tel Aviv University announced the creation of a 3D heart that has cells and blood vessels, The Jerusalem Post reported Monday. While the heart is small and not yet functional, it shows that, in the future, a heart could be made, which would help eliminate the need for transplants for patients suffering from heart failure.

The 3D heart is about the size of a rabbit’s heart, but scientists could use this process to create a larger organ to fit a human.

“This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers,” explained lead researcher Prof. Tal Dvir. He is on the faculty of TAU’s School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology, Department of Materials Science and Engineering in the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, and the Sagol Center for Regenerative Biotechnology.

A patient provided the cells needed to create the heart.

Dvir said that the 3D-printing of the heart by his team was not a breakthrough. It’s the fact that they made an organ with cells and blood vessels. “Our results demonstrate the potential of our approach for engineering personalized tissue and organ replacement in the future,” he said.

Now that a heart with its full structure has been replicated, Dvir said that the artificial organ now must be made to function as a heart. Then these printed organs will have to be tested in animals. He believes that in “10 years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely.”

The potential importance of the discovery of building artificial hearts stems from the reality that heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the world. In the United States, it is the leading killer of men and women. In Israel, it is the second leading cause of death after cancer.

Currently, the only way to treat patients with end-stage heart failure is a transplant. But the number of patients needing hearts far outnumber the number of hearts available and many die waiting for a new heart. A functioning 3D heart could save many people who would not survive under current conditions.

Three years ago, Dvir announced the concept of a heart patch, that could be placed over dead heart muscle cells and help the heart function after suffering damage from a heart attack. It isn’t clear if this heart patch is on the market, but the process for fabricating the patch appears to be the same as for the 3D heart.