Lab-grown vaginas prove long-term success for four women born without one

 

Health Reporter

Scientists in the USA have completed the first successful implants of “lab-grown” vaginal organs, in four women with a rare condition who were born without a vagina.

The extraordinary procedures, carried out between 2005 and 2008, have proved a long-term success, with all four patients, who were aged between 13 and 18 at the time of the operation, able to become sexually active without any discomfort.

It is the first time that vaginas grown from the patient’s own cells have been implanted and the experts behind the procedure said it had was superior to existing reconstructive methods.

All four patients had been diagnosed with the rare Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome. Women with MHRK are born without a vagina, cervix, or womb. It affects one in every 5,000 women.

Existing treatments for women living with MHRK include stretching the small amount of vaginal tissue present, and women are usually able to have comfortable sex but are unable to become pregnant.

The new technique, which has been trialled by a team of scientists in the USA and Mexico, led by Professor Anthony Atala of the Wake School of Medicine, saw the four patients undergo a biopsy to remove tissue from the vulva, which was used to cells in the lab. The cells were then placed on a biodegradable, vagina-shaped “scaffold”, hand-sewn and tailor made for the patient, and left to grow.

Researchers then surgically implanted the scaffolds, which once implanted, lead to expansions of nerves and blood vessels, which form tissue. As the biodegradable material is absorbed into the body the cells form into a permanent organ.

As many as eight years later, patients reported normal sexual function, and no pain. Because women with MHRK do not have a developed womb, the patients were unable to become pregnant. However, women with the condition can produce eggs, which can be used for IVF treatment.

“This technique is a viable option for vaginal reconstruction and has several advantages over current reconstructive methods because only a small biopsy of tissue is required and using vaginal cells may reduce complications that arise from using non-vaginal tissue, such as infection,” said Professor Atala.

Engineering organs for transplant from patients own tissue is a growing field of science which some experts believe could one day replace the need for organ donors. However, the procedures carried out by Professor Atala and his team represent only the first successful attempts and widespread clinical use is a long way off.

In another first, scientists in Switzerland have used similar techniques to reconstruct the nostrils of five patients, using cells from their nasal septum. The technique could be used to treat people who have had parts of their nose removed to prevent non-melanoma skin cancer, which commonly occurs on the skin of the nose, the researchers said.  

A year after the procedure, all five patients said they were happy with both their ability to breathe with the engineered nostrils, and with their appearance.

Both studies are published in The Lancet medical journal today.

Martin Birchall, professor of laryngology at University College London and one of the UK’s leading ear, nose and throat surgeons, said that the findings “start to edge tissue engineering towards the mainstream of organ and tissue replacement needs”.

“These authors have not only successfully treated several patients with a difficult clinical problem, but addressed some of the most important questions facing translation of tissue engineering technologies,” he said, adding it was time for the healthcare industry to take the new tissue engineering techniques seriously and speed their development.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project