Scientists have already had success growing different types of organs in laboratories. Now a research team reports having had long-term success for the first human recipients of laboratory-grown vaginal organs. Engineered from the patient's own cells and implanted, the vaginal organs showed normal structural and functional variables after eight years. These findings lead researchers to believe that these technologies could be useful in patients requiring vaginal reconstruction.

In the report, published in the Lancet, Anthony Atala, M.D., Director of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine, who led the research team, describes the long-term success in four teenage girls who received vaginal organs that were engineered with their own cells.

“This pilot study is the first to demonstrate that vaginal organs can be constructed in the lab and used successfully in humans,” said Atala in a press statement. Optimistic that the success the scientists had implanting laboratory grown vaginas with the study participants may represent a new option for patients who require vaginal reconstructive surgeries, Atala said the study is one more example of how regenerative medicine strategies can be applied to a variety of tissues and organs.

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Teens Had Rare Genetic Condition

The girls in the study, who were between 13 and 18 years old at the time of the surgeries, were born with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome, a rare genetic condition in which the vagina and uterus are underdeveloped or absent. The surgeries 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 normal function. What’s more, the patients’ responses to a Female Sexual Function Index questionnaire found that the women had normal sexual function after the treatment, including desire and pain-free intercourse.

Atlantida-Raya Rivera, lead author and director of the HIMFG Tissue Engineering Laboratory at the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico City, where the surgeries were performed, said in a press statement, “Tissue biopsies, MRI scans and internal exams using magnification all showed that the engineered vaginas were similar in makeup and function to native tissue.”

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Organ Structures Engineered Using Muscle and Epithelial Cells

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. The cells were extracted from the tissues, expanded, and then placed on a biodegradable material that was hand-sewn into a vagina-like shape. The scaffolds were tailor-made to fit each patient.

About five to six weeks following the biopsy, surgeons created a canal in the patient’s pelvis and sutured the scaffold to reproductive structures.

The researchers, who noted no long-term postoperative surgical complications in the teens, are optimistic that the treatment could also be useful for patients with vaginal cancer or injuries.

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Engineered Cartilage Tissue for Nasal Reconstruction

In a separate study, which was also published in The Lancet, a research team in Basel, Switzerland, engineered a human cartilage graft from patients' own nasal septum cartilage cells and successfully rebuilt the nostrils (alar lobule) of five patients whose noses were damaged by skin cancer. The patients in the study were 76 to 88 years of age.

According to the researchers, native cartilage from the nasal septum, ear, or rib is the standard material for surgical reconstruction. “We assessed whether engineered autologous cartilage grafts allow safe and functional alar lobule restoration,” said the researchers, in The Lancet paper.

One year after reconstruction, all five recipients were satisfied with their ability to breathe, as well as the cosmetic appearance of their nose, and did not report any local or systemic adverse events, according to the researchers.

The researchers suggest that engineered cartilage should be assessed for other challenging facial reconstructions.

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