Science Grows Vaginas in Laboratory

DNA

Four young cisgender women have been successfully implanted with vaginas made from their own cells. Tests following the implantation have shown that the engineered vaginas are indistinguishable from the rest of the womens’ bodies.

The four women in the study had Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome, which is a condition that causes the vagina and/or uterus to be underdeveloped or non-existent. This can be potentially lethal if the opening is completely non-existent but menstruation still occurs, leading to a pooling of blood in the abdomen.

The women in the study were aged 13 and 18 at the time of the surgeries, which occurred between 2005 and 2008. All four women are now sexually active and report normal vaginal function.

An article at Reuters detailed the process:

“The researchers started off by collecting a small amount of cells from genital tissue and grew two types of cells in the lab: muscle cells and epithelial cells, a type of cell that lines body cavities. About four weeks later, the team started applying layers of the cells onto a scaffold made of collagen, a material that can be absorbed by the body. They then shaped the organ to fit each patient’s anatomy, and placed it in an incubator.

A week later, the team created a cavity in the body and surgically attached the vaginal implants to existing reproductive organs. Once implanted, nerves and blood vessels formed to feed the new organ, and new cells eventually replaced the scaffolding as it was absorbed by the body.”

Doctor Anthony Atala, director of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina, said “By the six-month time point, you couldn’t tell the difference between engineered organ and the normal organ,”

This approach has previously been used by Atala’s team to make replacement bladders, urine tubes and urethras, but this study is reportedly the first to show that vaginal organs custom-built in the lab using patient’s own cells can be successfully used in humans.

While this method primarily presents new options for cisgender women who require reconstructive surgeries, many are hopeful that this advancement in regenerative medicine will eventually provide new frontiers for gender reassignment surgery.

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