Laboratory-Grown Vaginas Implanted in Patients, Scientists Report
WINSTON-SALEM, NC – April 10, 2014 – Scientists reported today the first human
recipients of laboratory-grown vaginal organs. A research team led by Anthony
Atala, M.D., director of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for
Regenerative Medicine, describes in the Lancet long-term success in four
teenage girls who received vaginal organs that were engineered with their own
READ a NEW SCIENTIST INTERVIEW WITH A WOMAN WHO RECEIVED AN ENGINEERED VAGINAL ORGAN.
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.”4/10/2014http://www.wakehealth.edu/News-Releases/2014/Laboratory-Grown_Vaginas_Implanted_in_Patients,_Scientists_Report.htm
The girls in the study were born with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH)
syndrome, a rare genetic condition in which the vagina and uterus are underdeveloped
or absent. The treatment could also potentially be applied to patients with vaginal
cancer or injuries, according to the researchers.
The girls were between 13 and 18 years old at the time of the surgeries, which
were performed between June 2005 and October 2008. Data from annual follow-up
visits show that even up to eight years after the surgeries, the organs had
“Tissue biopsies, MRI scans and internal exams using magnification all showed
that the engineered vaginas were similar in makeup and function to native
tissue, said Atlantida-Raya Rivera, lead author and director of the HIMFG Tissue Engineering
Laboratory at the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico City, were the surgeries
In addition, the patients’ responses to a Female Sexual Function Index
questionnaire showed they had normal sexual function after the treatment, including
desire and pain-free intercourse.
The organ structures were engineered using muscle and epithelial cells (the
cells that line the body’s cavities) from a small biopsy of each patient’s
external genitals. In a Good Manufacturing Practices facility, the cells were
extracted from the tissues, expanded and then placed on a biodegradable material
that was hand-sewn into a vagina-like shape. These scaffolds were tailor-made to
fit each patient.
About five to six weeks after the biopsy, surgeons created a canal in the
patient’s pelvis and sutured the scaffold to reproductive structures. Previous laboratory
and clinical research in Atala’s lab has shown that once cell-seeded scaffolds are
implanted in the body, nerves and blood vessels form and the cells expand and
form tissue. At the same time the scaffolding material is being absorbed by the
body, the cells lay down materials to form a permanent support structure –
gradually replacing the engineered scaffold with a new organ.
Followup testing on the lab-engineered vaginas showed the margin between native
tissue and the engineered segments was indistinguishable and that the scaffold
had developed into tri-layer vaginal tissue.
Current treatments for MRHK syndrome include dilation of existing tissue or reconstructive
surgery to create new vaginal tissue. A variety of materials can be used to surgically
construct a new vagina – from skin grafts to tissue that lines the abdominal
cavity. However, these substitutes often lack a normal muscle layer and some
patients can develop a narrowing or contracting of the vagina.
The researchers say that with conventional treatments, the overall complication
rate is as high as 75 percent in pediatric patients, with the need for vaginal
dilation due to narrowing being the most common complication.
Before beginning the pilot clinical study, Atala’s team evaluated lab-built
vaginas in mice and rabbits beginning in the early 1990s. In these studies,
scientists discovered the importance of using cells on the scaffolds. Atala’s
team used a similar approach to engineer replacement bladders that were
implanted in nine children beginning in 1998, becoming the first in the world
to implant laboratory-grown organs in humans. The team has also successfully
implanted lab-engineered urine tubes (urethras) into young boys.
The team said the current study is limited because of its size, and that it
will be important to gain further clinical experience with the technique and to
compare it with established surgical procedures.
Co-researchers were James J. Yoo, M.D., Ph.D., and Shay Soker, Ph.D., Wake
Forest Baptist, and Diego R. Esquiliano M.D., Reyna Fierro-Pastrana P.hD., Esther
Lopez-Bayghen Ph.D., Pedro Valencia M.D., and Ricardo Ordorica-Flores, M.D.,Children’s
Hospital Mexico Federico Gomez Metropolitan Autonomous University, Mexico.
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