Ever since scientists grew a human bladder in a laboratory in 1996, researchers have continued to develop more complex organs. Beating human hearts have also been grown in the lab and infected with disease to test various drugs. As a result of these medical advancements, people have had their lives changed for the better.
For example, there have been multiple windpipe replacements, tear duct replacements, artery transplants, bladder transplants and more. The development of lab-built body parts is on the rise as a result of a shortage of organ donors, and many of these organs are built with the recipients own cells. This is the power of regenerative medicine.
One of the most recent successful lab grown organ transplants is the female vagina. Researchers were able to successfully implant lab-grown vaginas into 4 teenage girls, and the results were published earlier this year. Tissue samples from the poorly developed vulva as well as a biodegradable scaffold were used.
“We were able to shape the scaffold specifically for each patient, and place this device with the cells in a bioreactor – which is an ovenlike device and has the same conditions as the human body – for about a week, until it was slightly more mature.” (source) – Dr. Anthony Atala, lead researcher, director of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre’s Institute for regenerative medicine.
They grew each vagina from the cells of each patient and then implanted them. So far so good, as the patients are now able to be sexually active and have reported normal functioning (several years later). All of the women reported normal levels of “desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm and satisfaction.” The study was published earlier this year in the journal Lancet. (1)
The vaginas were constructed at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre in North Carolina.
“Really for the first time we’ve created a whole organ that was never there to start with, it was a challenge. A functioning vagina was a very important thing for these women’s lives and witnessing the difference it made to them was very rewarding to see.” (source) – Dr. Anthony Atala
This is a huge step in the world of regenerative medicine, as this particular breakthrough could be used to possibly treat vaginal cancer, injuries, and those who require reconstructive surgery.
“A lot of what we are doing right now is really applicable to patients who have a deformity or abnormal organs for many other conditions – of course, the most prominent being cancer and patients who may have an injury in the area.” (source) – Dr. Anthony Atala
The process of growing the vagina only took 4 to 6 weeks, and the girls at the time of their surgeries were between 13 and 18 years old. The researchers followed up with them every year for five to eight years and examined the organs multiple times to see if everything was going well. As mentioned earlier, everything is and child birth is not expected to be a problem.
There have been some pretty remarkable transplants in the world of medicine, but it’s harder to transplant an organ that’s grown in a lab. It definitely becomes easier when researchers use the patients’ own tissue to grow the organ, that way the body is less likely to reject it, and does not have to be put on meds in order to force the body to accept it.
The girls in this particular study had a congenital deformation called “Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome, which currently affects between 1 in 1500, and one in 4000 female infants.
Although there is much to change when it comes to modern day medicine, advancements like these are promising and have the power to change peoples lives for the better, forever. Who knows, maybe one day successful organ transplants from the patients own tissue will be able to be done with any organ, the science is looking promising. Imagine being able to replace an unhealthy heart with a completely new healthy heart, grown from your own tissue.
Here’s a visual breakdown on how it’s done.
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