Vaginas Engineered From Scratch Are Actually a Thing

In Depth

With what could have major implications on sex reassignment surgery for transgender women, four young cisgender women have been successfully implanted with vaginas made from their own cells. Follow up tests have shown that the engineered vaginas are not distinguishable from the rest of the young women’s bodies.

The four young women included in the study were born with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome, which is when the vagina and/or uterus is underdeveloped or even entirely nonexistent. This can be potentially life-threatening if there is no opening whatsoever but menstruation still occurs, as it can lead to pooling of blood inside the abdomen.

While clearly not designed with trans women in mind, the process by which the vaginas were engineered (grown?!) outside the body in a lab and only later implanted could have effects on how surgeons tackle the issue of sex reassignment surgery. According to Reuters, the growth of epithelial and muscle cells seems to be very, very clearly directed by researchers.

The researchers started off by collecting a small amount of cells from genital tissue and grew two types of cells in the lab: muscle cells and epithelial cells, a type of cell that lines body cavities. About four weeks later, the team started applying layers of the cells onto a scaffold made of collagen, a material that can be absorbed by the body. They then shaped the organ to fit each patient’s anatomy, and placed it in an incubator.
A week later, the team created a cavity in the body and surgically attached the vaginal implants to existing reproductive organs. Once implanted, nerves and blood vessels formed to feed the new organ, and new cells eventually replaced the scaffolding as it was absorbed by the body.

The process has also been used to shape bladders and urethral tissue for boys, so it seems like what is important isn’t the assignment of the person at birth, but rather the physical “molding” of the tissue to be implanted. If this is true, it could serve as a much more viable option than today’s options for SRS.

Image via AP.

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