Lab grown vaginas surgically implanted in four teenage girls between six and nine years ago are now functioning well, and allowing the girls — who are now adult young women — to lead normal sexual lives, even though they all previously suffered from a rare birth defect causing them to be born without vaginas. The results of the lab grown vaginas study appear in Friday’s edition of the medical journal Lancet.
The four girls, ranging in ages from 14 to 18 at the time they received their lab grown vaginas, were all in Mexico, and all suffered from a disorder known as Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome — MRKHS — which causes girls to be born with abnormal vaginas or no vaginas at all.
Standard medical practice is to treat such girls with skin grafts, but the new technique pioneered at the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine used the girls’ own cells to grow vaginal tissue in a laboratory, which was then surgically implanted in the teens.
“There are other options out there, but they’re not ideal,” said Anthony Atala, director of the Institute. “For us, there is no better source than the patients’ own cells.”
Prior to the new technique of growing tissue from the girls’ own cells, intestinal tissue or skin from other areas of the body were used to craft new vaginas for girls born with MRKHS, but those methods came with a host of problems.
For example, new vaginas created from intestinal tissue could produce too much mucous and create a repugnant odor. But the vaginas grown in a federally certified lab have behaved no differently than a normal vagina would, according to tissue biopsies, MRI exams and other tests performed recently on the women who received the lab grown vaginas.
After the lab grown vaginas were implanted, it took about six months for the tissue to take hold and become indistinguishable from the girls’ own tissue.
“It does change their lives. It really does,” said Atala. “It’s a challenging problem to have. You’re dealing not just with the anatomical defect, but making sure they do well emotionally.”
The young women themselves are also happy with their lab grown vaginas.
“When I discovered that there was this possibility for me, I was very happy,” said one, who did not give her name but is interviewed in a video created by teh Wake Forest Instutute. “It is important to let other girls that have the same problem know that it does not end knowing that you have the disease because there is a treatment and you can have a normal life.”
In addition to lab grown vaginas, the Lancet study also shows that lab grown nostrils have functioned just as well in patients who received them. Researchers hope to use the technique to grow other bodily organs such as lungs and kidneys.