Vaginas grown in a laboratory from patients’ cells have been successfully implanted into women’s bodies, according to a recent announcement made in the British medical journal The Lancet. The procedures themselves were performed on four women suffering from a rare condition called Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser Syndrome (MRKH), which afflicts approximately one in 4,000 women from birth. Those afflicted have a missing or deformed uterus, an absent or ill-formed vagina. Up to eight years after these groundbreaking operations, all the recipients’ vaginas were found to be in good order and there were no complications, either short or long-term.
One of the clinicians working on the groundbreaking procedure stated: “After the operation they were able to function normally. They had normal levels of desire, arousal, satisfaction and orgasm.” Publication of the results were held back only after four to eight years had elapsed since the surgeries to ensure that enough time had passed to be sure there were no long-term complications.
Transexual and transgender Vaginoplasy has made tremendous strides over the past decades. The results have become more “natural-looking” and sensitive to stimulation, but the current use of skin harvested from one’s male genitalia can lead to severe complications. Vaginal canals fashioned with skin cells that do not provide lubrication can cause pain during sex and can thicken to the point where the vagina closes.
In this new procedure, a custom fabricated scaffold for the vagina was crafted in a collagen matrix after doing MRIs of the patients to insure proper size and shape. Then in a lab, the patients’ cells were added to build up tissue in the scaffold. Once the cells had successfully colonized the matrix, surgeons created a cavity in the women’s abdomens and inserted the engineered vagina. It was then stitched in place, and for the two women who possessed them, it was connected at the top to their uteruses.
Once implanted, by design, the collagen scaffolding degraded over the months following surgery and the implanted vagina’s cells matured into the tissue that normally makes up the vaginal wall, including the right layers of muscle and epithelial cells. The vagina was fully developed after six months, and the women were able to menstruate and have sex. They also showed normal levels of desire, arousal, satisfaction and orgasm. It is believed that the two women who have uteruses now have nothing preventing them from getting pregnant and carrying to term, though thus far they haven’t attempted it.
One of the recipients, who wishes to remain anonymous, stated, “I truly feel fortunate, because I’ll have a normal life – completely normal,” she says. “It’s 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.”
The implications for this latest scientific advancement are clear and demonstrate that fully functional lab-engineered organs can grow to maturity healthily inside the body. While successful engineering and implantation of a fully functional self-lubricating vaginal cavity in a male-to-female gender reassignment surgery is probably still some ways into the future, things are promising for future generations who suffer gender dysphoria.