You Won’t Believe What Scientists Just Grew In a Lab. Here’s a hint…It’s A Female Body Part.

According to a study that was recently released in The Lancet, scientists from the US and Mexico were able to successfully implant female reproductive organs that were grown in labs.

Although this is not the first time that body parts have been successfully engineered, it does mark the first time such complex and large organs were successfully grown and implanted.

This is a huge breakthrough that “is a move forward to even more challenging (organs),” according to Ivan Martin, co-author of the nasal cartilage study and a professor at the University Hospital Basel located in Switzerland. What this means is that it is now possible to engineer tissue and organs that can actually be implanted to help people.

While tissue engineering has been focused on the repairing of tissue like burned skin or a dysfunctional bladder, these recent advancements have gone beyond just repair to complete replacement of tissue and organs.

The study mentioned in The Lancet involved 4 teenage patients who were born with a rare condition known as Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser Syndrome. The patients were either born with a deformed or missing uterus or vagina, or some other similar issue.

In order to help these patients, reproductive organs had to be created. This all starts with a 3-D scaffold made to mimic the actual dimensions of a patient’s missing organ. Once the scaffold is created, “seed” cells from small muscle and tissue swatches of the patients are placed onto the scaffolds. There they will be grown for several weeks outside of the body.

Organ scaffolds act to provide a basic framework upon which tissue can be grown. Eventually the scaffolds, along with the “seed” cells, are implanted in the body. The scaffolds are made of a material that will eventually melt into the body, so the cells and tissue will continue to grow while the scaffold is slowly absorbed by the body.

This may all sound quite simple, but the process is very delicate and complicated. If successful, a new and fully functioning organ will be grown.

MRI image showing the lab-engineered vaginal organ

The amazing thing is that since they are grown using the patient’s cells and are grown for a time within the body, the organ is not rejected. Atala, the chairman of the urology department at Wake Forest University, explains that the “body recognizes the organ as its own,” and “just like with normal organs, these organs also grow with (them).”

The patients in Atala’s study reported that they experienced normal levels of arousal, desire, lubrication and orgasm during intercourse. Two of the patients also went through menstruation with the new organs, which implies the possibility of reproduction.

There were no major complications that arose from the procedures, even after follow ups were done years later. However, this study only involved four patients, meaning the results are not conclusive. A larger study needs to be done.

There is hope that a larger group of patients will be able to benefit from the findings of this study, ideally women who are in need of new reproductive organs due to trauma or cancer.

While the last 20 years have seen some hiccups in terms of tissue engineering progress, it looks as if common use of lab-grown organs is becoming a reality.