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Lab-Grown Vaginas Implanted In 4 Teenagers Functioning Normally

Update Date: Apr 17, 2014 08:57 AM EDT

Lab-grown vaginas implanted in four teenagers five to eight years ago is working fine in each of them. Patients had to undergo surgery because they were born with a rare genetic condition in which the vagina and uterus were underdeveloped or absent. 

Patients have reported normal functions and are now sexually active. 

Although this is a small pilot study, the results show that vaginal organs can be constructed in the lab and used successfully in people, said study researcher Dr. Anthony Atala, director of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center's Institute for Regenerative Medicine, according to Scientific American.

"A lot of what we are doing right now is really applicable to patients who have deformity or abnormal organs for many other conditions - of course, the most prominent being cancer - [and] also patients who may have an injury in the area," Atala said.

Each patient who underwent the surgery had a congenital deformation called Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome, which affects between one in 1,500 and one in 4,000 female infants. 

For building up the personalized vaginas, researchers took a small piece of vulvar tissue from each patient and allowed them to multiply in the lab dishes. 

"We were able to shape the scaffold specifically for each patient, and place this device with the cells in a bioreactor - which is an ovenlike device and has the same conditions as the human body - for about a week, until it was slightly more mature," Atala said.

Once the organ was ready to be implanted, doctors surgically created a cavity in the patients' bodies and stitched one side of the vaginal organ to the opening of the cavity and the other side to the uterus. 

"The whole process takes about five to six weeks, from the time we take the tissue from the patient to the time we actually plant the engineered construct back into the patient," Atala said.

Researchers added that risks of complications were higher with these techniques as the tissue substitute is not vaginal tissue.

The study has been published in the journal Lancet

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