Illustrated by Ly Ngo.
Every new day seems to bring with it another huge step toward growing a complete human being in a lab — one body part at a time. A few weeks ago, we learned about efforts to mass-produce functional human hearts, livers, lungs, and kidneys. And, just this week, word came that scientists in England had created human ears and noses in petri dishes. But, today marks another, even crazier milestone: The first lab-grown vagina is officially here.
Scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina created vaginas for four women who were born with vaginal aplasia, a condition that results in the vagina forming improperly while the individual is in the womb. Using the women's pelvic scans to create a tube-shaped "scaffolding" tailored to each patient, the doctors grew real vaginal tissue around this structure from stem cells, resulting in fully functional vaginal canals that were then implanted in the women.
Although the results have just been published this week, the transplants occurred several years ago. According to the BBC, all four patients report "normal sexual function"; in two of the ladies, doctors were able to attach the new vaginas to the womb, and they believe the women will be able to have children in the future.
The success of this new treatment is sure to have significant implications not only for vaginal aplasia patients, but for transgender individuals as well. Previously, in order to create a vagina, surgeons have had to form a cavity in the patient's pelvis, which is then lined with skin grafts. The ability to grow a vagina in a lab could mean a completely new procedure for sexual-reassignment surgery. We don't know about you, but we can't wait to see what science learns to grow next. (BBC Health)