Four women born with abnormal or missing vaginas were recently implanted with lab-grown replacements created from their own cells. All four women are now sexually active and report normal vaginal function.
Photo Credit: Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative MediciNE via Reuters
The organs... were implanted between June 2005 and October 2008 in four teenage girls who each lacked or had an underdeveloped vagina and uterus, the result of a rare genetic condition called Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome.
Years after the two-hour procedures, annual follow-up visits showed that the surgeries had been a success: The new organs functioned normally, including during sex, and their tissue was indistinguishable from the native tissue that had already been there.
Researchers led by Anthony Atala, director of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center's Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina describe their research in the latest issue of The Lancet – including what, exactly, they mean when they mean by "normally functioning organs":
We noted no long-term postoperative surgical complications. Yearly serial biopsies showed a tri-layered structure, consisting of an epithelial cell-lined lumen surrounded by matrix and muscle, with expected components of vaginal tissue present. Immunohistochemical analysis confirmed the presence of phenotypically normal smooth muscle and epithelia. The MRIs, which showed the extent of the vaginal aplasia before surgery, showed the engineered organs and the absence of abnormalities after surgery, which was confirmed with yearly vaginoscopy. A validated self-administered Female Sexual Function Index questionnaire showed variables in the normal range in all areas tested, such as desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction, and painless intercourse.
This is huge news for people with MRKH syndrome and victims of vaginal cancers and injuries. It could one day even become an option for people seeking looking to undergo genital reassignment surgery.
The procedure probably still has a ways to go before it's approved by the FDA (the present trial took place in Mexico). Still, it's terrifically exciting news. One can't help but wonder if the long-awaited lab-grown penis isn't far behind.