Scientists announced this week that between 2005 and 2008 four women from Mexico City received lab-grown vaginas. According to their doctors, the patients are doing well nearly a decade later.
The Verge reports the women who underwent the transplant were all born with a rare genetic condition called Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome. They published the remarkable accomplishment April 11 in the journal The Lancet.
MRKH syndrome affects one in 4,500 girls. Those affected are born with either “an underdeveloped or absent vagina and uterus.”
The women were between 13 and 18 years of age at the time of the surgery.
Traditional treatment for this condition involves painful surgery and dilation procedures, which can be traumatic for patients, and often unsuccessful. In an attempt to find another way to combat MRKH, researchers embarked on a scientific journey to engineer vaginas that would be compatible with each individual patient.
This photo shows an MRI image of an implanted vagina:
- The vaginal organs were generated using cells biopsied from the women’s genital areas.
- The cells were then “teased apart” and grown separately, according to Anthony Atala, a urologist at Wake Forest University who conducted the trials.
- The cells were “expanded and sewn onto a biodegradable scaffold that researchers had previously shaped into a vagina tailored to each patient.”
- Six weeks later, the women underwent surgery.
- After the operation, the women’s “nerves and blood vessels gradually expanded and started integrating themselves into the engineered tissue,” The Verge reported. “By the time the scaffolding had completely disappeared, it was no longer needed — the cells had laid down their own permanent support structure.”
Atala, who in 1998 was able to implant engineered bladders in nine children, says that after 8 years the transplanted organs show functionality. The women can experience sexual desire, pain-free sex, and can even reach orgasm, though they are unable to bear children, since they still lack a working uterus.