Bio-engineered vaginas grown from patients' own cells


April 11, 2014

Biodegradable scaffolding material, seeded with a test subject's cells and sewn into a vaginal shape

Biodegradable scaffolding material, seeded with a test subject's cells and sewn into a vaginal shape

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Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome is a genetic condition in which girls are born either without a vagina, or with one that's underdeveloped. While there are ways of addressing the situation, they're not without their drawbacks. Now, however, four young women have shown great success with implanted vaginal organs that were grown from their own cells.

All of the test subjects were born with MRKH, and were between 13 and 18 years old when the procedure was performed between 2005 and 2008.

A team from North Carolina's Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, led by Dr. Anthony Atala, started by harvesting muscle and epithelial cells (the latter of which line cavities within the body) from each girl's existing external genitals. Those cells were then "seeded" into a biodegradable scaffolding-like material, which was hand-sewn into a vagina-like shape that was designed to fit the participant.

The biodegradable scaffolding material

About five to six weeks later, the team surgically created a canal in each girl's pelvis, then grafted her custom-fit scaffold into it. From that point on, the cells in the material grew into muscle and epithelial tissue, while neighboring cells also grew into the scaffold, gradually replacing it as it biodegraded into the body.

In the years since, all of the participants have reported for regular follow-up visits. It was found that in all cases, "the engineered vaginas were similar in makeup and function to native tissue," with the scaffolding having developed into regular tri-layer vaginal tissue. Additionally, all of the now-adult test subjects have reported normal sexual function, with pain-free intercourse and feelings of desire.

An MRI showing one of the lab-engineered vaginas in place

"This pilot study is the first to demonstrate that vaginal organs can be constructed in the lab and used successfully in humans," said Atala. "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."

With traditional MRKH treatments, which include the surgical construction of vaginas using skin grafts, there is often no muscle tissue in the resulting organ, plus complications such as a narrowing of the vagina can occur.

A paper on the Wake Forest research was published today in the journal The Lancet.

Source: Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Obviously, biotechnology will produce a new nature, radically different and hardly imaginable nowadays. Even so, will life always be life? Indeed, is the life that is in a cell the same life that is in a monkey or a human being, dully or wisely engineered? And beyond the marvellous specific benefits, what place will the whole of human beings and their traditions have in this new biotech nature? What place those aged societies that do not integrate fully within these biological products? Will biotechnology inevitably produce a new species, will humanity diverge again as the branch of a tree? Is the current production-economic system demanding these changes, its driving-force? Or rather, is the goal to maintain an excellent health of the population? Is the latter credible in a world that is full of competition and enmity? Is it credible when there is hunger in a planet full of protein, where human beings are hungry meanwhile a weed of the field lives without problems?


It must be awful for girls who have this condition, so anything that might help alleviate it can only be for the good, surely?

Mel Tisdale
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