Some women suffer from a rare genetic condition where their vaginas and uterus are either under-developed or absent. A new scientific breakthrough - laboratory-grown vaginas engineered from patients' own cells - may change that after they were successfully implanted into four teenage girls.
Tests showed that the organs, constructed from muscle cells and the epithelial cells which line body cavities, functioned normally.
The girls, who were aged 13 to 18 at the time of the surgery, were born with Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome.
"The extraordinary procedures, carried out between 2005 and 2008, have proved a long-term success, with all four patients, who were aged between 13 and 18 at the time of the operation, able to become sexually active without any discomfort," reported The Independent.
"This pilot study is the first to demonstrate that vaginal organs can be constructed in the lab and used successfully in humans," said lead researcher Dr Anthony Atala, from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre in Winston-Salem, US.
"This may represent a new option for patients who require vaginal reconstructive surgeries. In addition, this study is one more example of how regenerative medicine strategies can be applied to a variety of tissues and organs."
A questionnaire assessment showed that sexual function was normal after treatment, the researchers reported in The Lancet medical journal.
Cells were grown in the laboratory before being placed on a biodegradable scaffold that was hand-sewn into the correct shape.
Each scaffold was tailor-made to fit the patient.