Japan: Artist on trial over 3D-printed vagina art
Representational image.Megumi Igarashi

A new ray of hope has shined upon patients suffering from vaginal cancer and injuries, as a surgeon revealed that he is in the process of creating a bionic vagina. The only catch being, it is being made from the intestine of a pig!

The artificial organ was developed with a pig's tissue alongside a patient's own stem cells, in a project that is being led by Alexander Seifalian – the man who also constructed the first synthetic trachea to be transplanted into a patient.

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This new discovery also holds the potential to transform the lives of women suffering from disorders such as vaginal atresia, where the vagina is abnormally closed or absent or Mayer–Rokitansky–Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome, in which the vagina does not fully develop.

The work is being carried out carrying out at the London-based NanoRegMed – one of the multiple labs around the world, workings towards the idea of creating advanced custom-made organs in the lab. Yet, this experimental phase and the scheme might take up to five years to be used in patients.

As Daily Star Online reported, the nanotechnology and regenerative expert also revealed that he has produced a scaffold in the shape of a vagina, for which muscle and cells were extracted from a patient and joined with the pig intestine. This was achieved by feeding them nutrients that allowed the cells to grow and merge together.

Representational image.Creative Commons.

The next step – that is to transplant the vagina scaffold into a human – was explained by Professor Seifalian, saying: "The construct will be taken from the operating theatre and inserted into the patient. It will then be integrated into surrounding tissue and be a normal organ."

He also explained that the scaffold is extremely thin at just 20 micrometres, which is to allow the cells to grow faster. His work primarily follows that of Dr Anthony Atala's, who created a lot of artificial vaginas from 2005 to 2008 using stem cells of the patients.

Previous research in Dr Atala's lab has also shown that these cell-seeded scaffolds, once implanted in the body, nerves and blood vessels form and cells expand from the tissue. And while the scaffolding material is being absorbed by the body, the cells also lay down materials to form a support structure that gradually replaces the artificial scaffold with a new organ.

Also read: The 'dead vagina' syndrome

As per responses to a Female Sexual Function Index questionnaire, multiple teen women who had undergone the procedure claimed they had a normal sexual function after the treatment, including desire and pain-free intercourse.

As for the materials used to surgically construct a new vagina, there are a variety of them, ranging from skin grafts to tissue that lines the abdominal cavity. However, due to these substitutes often lacking in a normal muscle layer, it can cause a narrowing or contracting of the vagina in some patients. 

Professor Seifalian also said that even though there have been severe advancements in regenerative medicine, the greatest barrier in achieving the goals still remains to be medical industries not being interested in commercialising such projects.