Lab-Grown Vaginas, Noses Herald New Options for Patients
Regenerative surgery takes a leap forward, two studies show
The girls received their grafts between 2005 and 2008, and data from annual follow-up visits show that even up to eight years after the surgeries the organs had normal function.
Tissue biopsies, MRI scans and internal exams using magnification all showed that the engineered vaginas were similar in makeup and function to natural tissue. Even doctors said they couldn't tell where the girls' natural tissue ended and the graft began.
Questionnaires the girls completed showed they test normal in all areas of female sexual function, including desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction and painless intercourse.
The results are "fascinating" given the complexity of the tissue structure and function of a vagina, said Dr. Monica Mainigi, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
"I think it's going to open up numerous possibilities for treatment," she said. "It's a promising new field for medicine in general."
Atala said this particular procedure might also help women needing vaginal reconstruction because of cancer or an injury, but the technology behind it has uses that extend beyond gynecology.
His research team also is working to grow new versions of 30 other tissues and organs, attempting to replicate body parts such as heart valves, blood vessels, and liver and kidney tissue.
"We can use this strategy to create other organs as well," he said. "This research has allowed us to advance the technology."
In the other study, Swiss scientists harvested nasal cartilage cells from five patients, ages 76 to 88, who had severe defects of their noses following skin cancer surgery.
During skin cancer surgery, doctors often have to cut away parts of cartilage to remove a tumor. Surgeons usually reconstruct the nose using cartilage from the person's ear or ribs, but the procedure can be very invasive and painful.
The researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland grew the cartilage cells into new tissue 40 times the size of the original biopsy in one month, and then used that tissue to rebuild the noses of the patients.
One year after the reconstruction, all five patients were satisfied with their ability to breathe as well as with the appearance of their nose. None reported any side effects.