Engineered Vaginas

It’s going to be a while before you can grab your credit card and order a vagina online, but scientists have successfully grown vaginas in the lab. Not only that, but they’ve transplanted them into human patients. Before VR became the link bait of every tech blog, it was 3D printing stories. Remember all the hype? We’ll be printing food, clothes and homes! Essentially, the Wake Forest School of Medicine has 3D printed vaginas for patients who suffer from Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser Syndrome (MRKH).

The rare disorder, MRKH syndrome, occurs when a woman develops external genitalia and ovaries, but the uterus and vagina are missing. In some cases ovaries are missing as well. Women with MRKH are unable to menstruate or have intercourse. Aside from the psychological effects MRKH can have, not being able to menstruate is potentially dangerous because the blood has to go somewhere. Some patients with MRKH must have vaginoplasty or skin grafts to create the vagina. This means that there is no lubrication for intercourse. Obviously, that would be painful. Others are treated with a non-surgical method by using vaginal dilators to allow for more comfortable sexual activity.

The engineered vaginas were produced for 4 women 6–10 years ago and the results were shared in 2014. With samples from the participants, the lab grew cells for a number of weeks. Then, they placed the cells on a biodegradable scaffolding to create the vagina. Surgeons had to make a cavity for the new vagina and it was connected to the uterus. It is reported that the women were able to participate in intercourse and menstruate, six months after the surgery.

In the past, women with MRKH have not been able to have children. There’s hope that this new technique will allow those with the disorder to get pregnant in the future. One of the participants said she is eager to start a family. However, this study only included 4 patient trials, so there’s still much work to be done. I reached out to the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine to get an update and I was told, “the research is ongoing.” They are hoping to do more trials, but did not offer a timetable. In the meantime, I’m left to wonder if they have to keep the lab-grown penises in a separate lab for fear of debauchery?