Scientists conducting two studies have successfully engineered body parts in laboratories for patients with deformed or missing organs.
Scientists in the United States, Mexico and Switzerland grew reproductive organs and nasal cartilage in labs, and successfully implanted them in patients, according to the studies published in The Lancet on Thursday.
One long-term study implanted laboratory-grown vaginal and reproductive organs in four teenage girls between the ages of 13 and 18, who suffered from a congenital disease called Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser Syndrome. This rare condition leads to the underdeveloped or absence of a vagina, cervix or uterus.
Dr. Anthony Atala, director of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine, who led the research team, describes an optimistic and promising option for patients who require genital reconstructive surgery.
The organs were “grown” on a 3-D scaffold, he said, adding, “We then create a three-dimensional model that looks like the organ that would fit into that specific patient. We coat that mold with the patient’s own cells. We then place the structure in an oven-like device to let it cook, if you will. It has the same conditions as the human body.”
For patients, they now have an organ that is structurally and functionally sound. Eight years after the surgery, all the girls reported normal levels of desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction and painless intercourse. This may even include the possibility of pregnancy and childbirth.
In the second study, five elderly cancer patients needed reconstructive surgery after losing much nasal tissue and cartilage to the disease. Again, using the same “scaffolding” technique, the engineered cartilage was laid in the wound and allowed to grow. These patients also share the same success, in terms of structure, function, and aesthetics.
As exciting and promising as this is, it’s too early to see how easily it can be replicated on a larger scale, as the studies only included a handful of people. But perhaps with the shortage of donor organs and the risks involved in transplants, this could bring scientists one step closer to the holy grail of medicine.
S.C. Rhyne is a blogger and novelist in New York City. Follow the author on Twitter @ReporterandGirl, http://Facebook.com/TheReporterandTheGirl and visit her website at http://www.SCRhyne.com