Lab-Grown Vaginas Function in Patients


Vaginal organs implanted in four girls are successfully functioning up to eight years later, researchers reported in the Lancet today.

Four teenage girls, who were born with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome, in which the vagina and uterus are either underdeveloped or missing, received vaginal organs that were engineered with their own cells.

The surgeries were done between 2005 and 2008, and all have reported normal functioning since then. Tissue biopsies and MRI scans also showed that the engineered vaginas were working similarly to native tissue, the researchers said.

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“This pilot study is the first to demonstrate that vaginal organs can be constructed in the lab and used successfully in humans,” said lead researcher Dr. Anthony Atala, director of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “This may represent a new option for patients who require vaginal reconstructive surgeries. In addition, this study is one more example of how regenerative medicine strategies can be applied to a variety of tissues and organs.”

Treating MRHK with the current standard procedure, reconstructive surgery or dilation of existing tissue, results in complications in as many as 75 percent of pediatric patients, the researchers said. And, the materials used for reconstruction usually lack a muscle layer.

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The pilot study used muscle and cells from a biopsy of each patient’s genitals to build a scaffold in the shape of the vagina. Then the surgeons created a canal in the pelvis that they sutured the scaffold to. When scaffolding material is introduced to the body, cells start forming a permanent support structure that results in a new organ.

After further clinical experience with the procedure, the treatment could also be used on patients with vaginal cancer or injuries, the researchers said.

Photo: A scaffold made of a biodegradable material around which epithelial cells are grown. Credit: Yuanyuan Zhang, M.D., Ph.D.

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