April 19, 2017 -- A woman who took part in a ground-breaking study in which scientists were able to use her cells to engineer lab-grown vaginas is speaking about the procedure that changed her life.
The unnamed woman was one of four subjects between the ages of 13 to 18 who took part in the study. All four suffered from a genetic condition called Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH), which left them with vaginas that were incomplete.
The unnamed woman, who lives in Mexico, said in a translated interview that she was 18 when she found out about her condition and started to learn about her options.
“I thought I couldn’t believe it was true. I was informed about other procedures for this syndrome and it was unbelievable that it could be done in a lab,” she said of first learning about the study.
To engineer the organs, researchers from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., and the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico City biopsied cells from the women and were able to use a biodegradable scaffolds to then build the vagina in the lab. The organs were then implanted in each patient.
“For me to be able to have the surgery, I feel very fortunate because I can have a normal life,” said the woman. “I know I’m one of the first. It is important to let other girls that have the same problem know that ... there is a treatment and you can have a normal life."
A woman with MRKH will often not develop a uterus or a full vagina, though external genitalia is unaffected by the disorder, which often means the syndrome is not diagnosed until the patient is in her late teens. Before the study, patients were limited to surgical options to recreate that vaginal canal. The disorder affects approximately one in 4,500 female births, according to the National Institutes of Health.
In the eight years after the original operation, researchers found that the subjects reported normal sexual function and that the engineered organs remained structurally and functionally normal.
“Truly I feel fortunate because I have a normal life, completely normal,” said the woman who took part in the study.