Researchers believe they have made an important step towards inventing a patch that could mend a broken heart.
Bioengineers from Trinity College Dublin have developed a prototype that does the same job as crucial aspects of heart tissue.
Their patch withstands the mechanical demands and mimics the electrical signalling properties that enable our hearts to pump blood rhythmically round our bodies.
Their work "essentially takes us one step closer to a functional design that could mend a broken heart", said a spokesman.
One in six men and one in seven women in the EU will suffer a heart attack at some point in their lives. Worldwide, heart disease kills more women and men, regardless of race, than any other disease.
Cardiac patches lined with heart cells can be applied surgically to restore heart tissue in patients who have had damaged tissue removed after a heart attack and to repair congenital heart defects in infants and children, the research in the journal 'Advanced Functional Materials' reported.
The goal is to create cell-free patches that can restore the synchronous beating of the heart cells, without impairing the heart muscle movement.
Michael Monaghan, assistant professor in biomedical engineering at Trinity and senior author on the paper, said: "Despite some advances in the field, heart disease still places a huge burden on our healthcare systems and the life quality of patients worldwide.
"It affects all of us either directly or indirectly through family and friends.
"As a result, researchers are continuously looking to develop new treatments which can include stem cell treatments, biomaterial gel injections and assistive devices.
"Ours is one of few studies that looks at a traditional material.
"We used a novel method called melt electro-writing and through close collaboration with the suppliers located nationally we were able to customise the process to fit our design needs."