The Greek word xenos means “strange” or “foreign”; the word genesis means the origin or mode of formation of something.
Combining the two, xenogenesis may mean strange origin — an apt word for vaginas grown in a lab.
A team of scientists led by Anthony Atala, MD, director of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine, succeeded in growing vaginas in a laboratory, then transplanted them into four girls. The study was co-funded by Wake Forest University and Hospital Infantil de México Federico Gómez.
Their findings were published in an article titled “Tissue-engineered autologous vaginal organs in patients: a pilot cohort study,” in the online April 10, 2014 edition of the journal The Lancet.
The study’s subjects were four teenage girls, aged 13-18 years, who were born with vaginal aplasia caused by Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome (MRKHS) — a rare genetic condition in which the vagina and uterus are underdeveloped or absent. The congenital deformation affects between one in 1,500 and one in 4,000 female infants.
To build the personalized vaginas, the researchers took a small piece (less than half the size of a postage stamp) of vulvar tissue from each patient, and then allowed the cells to multiply in lab dishes.
The vagina is made up of two major layers with two cell types: muscle cells and vaginal epithelial cells. To build these layers, the researchers placed one cell type on one face of a biodegradable vagina-shaped scaffold, and placed the other cell type on the other face of the scaffold.
The cell-scaffold was then placed in a bioreactor — an ovenlike device that has the same conditions as the human body — for about a week.
Once the lab-grown vaginas were ready, doctors surgically created a cavity in the girls’ bodies, then stitched one side of the vaginal organ to the opening of the cavity and the other side to the uterus.
For each girl, the whole process took about 5 to 6 weeks, from the time the vulvar tissue was taken from her to the time the engineered vagina was surgically implanted.
The patients were followed up for 8 years. There were no long-term postoperative surgical complications. The implanted vaginas are working normally, as indicated by the patients’ responses to self-administered Female Sexual Function Index questionnaires, showing normal ranges in all areas tested, such as desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction, and painless intercourse.
The success of the pilot study is promising for the treatment of several disorders that might require vaginal reconstruction, such as congenital abnormalities, injury, or cancer. Current treatments for MRKH syndrome include dilation of existing tissue or, for more severe cases, reconstructive surgery using a piece of intestine or a piece of skin to create a new vaginal organ.
Notwithstanding the success of this pilot study, the researchers caution that the risk of complications is high when non-vaginal tissue is used to lab-grow vaginas because, as Dr. Atala explained, “They are not ideal because they don’t perform the same functionality.”
While Dr. Atala did not include transgenders among expected patients for lab-grown vaginas, that is clearly a possibility. I won’t be surprised if the Obama administration already has plans ready to have taxpayers foot the bill of growing vaginas in laboratories for surgical implantation into men who imagine themselves to be women.
After all, taxpayers are already forced to pay for the “sex change” hormone “therapy” of former U.S. Army soldier Bradley “call me Chelsea” Manning, who is serving a 35-year sentence for leaking more than 700,000 classified document; as well as “sex reassignment” surgeries for Medicare and illegal immigrants.