Four teenage girls have received vaginas grown from their own cells in a lab. And they work. These girls were born with underdeveloped or missing vaginas because of a rare condition called Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser Syndrome that affects about 1 in 5,000 women. While their labia looked like those of other girls, their vaginas, cervixes and wombs, which are necessary for menstruation and childbirth, never fully formed.
Medical researchers took a vaginal tissue sample from each patient, who were between 13 and 18 at the time, and used them to grow cells in the lab. After four weeks, the researchers had enough cells to layer them on to degradable scaffolding — “like the layers of a cake,” lead researcher Anthony Atala of the Wake Forest School of Medicine explained. Then they were implanted.
The surgeries were done between 2005 and 2008. Atala and the team monitored the women for long-term complications before publishing the results in the medical journal The Lancet this week. The achievement was the work of a large team listed here.
The technique is a potentially important alternative to reconstructing tissue using grafts from other parts of the body, which medical researchers say produces too many complications. The trick was growing cells until they were mature enough to “recruit” other cells once implanted in the body and form tissue that includes blood vessels and nerves.