WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., April 11 (UPI) -- A small percentage of women are born with malformed vaginas -- the reproductive organ failing to properly take shape as the infant matures inside the womb. It's a condition known as vaginal aplasia.
It's a problem that can prevent a woman from enjoying a normal sex life. But it's a problem doctors can now solve.
Doctors have successfully implanted lab-grown vaginas in four U.S. women born with aplasia. The women, for the first time, are beginning to enjoy a life with normal sexual functionality.
"Really for the first time we've created a whole organ that was never there to start with, it was a challenge," Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest, recently told BBC News.
To create the new vaginas, doctors first took a sample from the deformed vulva and grew a mass of cells. The outside of the vagina was built using replicated muscle cells. Finally doctors create a hole in the pelvis, and scaffold in the newly created reproductive structure.
The four women have all reported normal sexual function.
"Truly I feel very fortunate because I have a normal life, completely normal," one of the four implant-receivers said -- wishing to remain anonymous.
And though none of the woman have gotten pregnant, giving birth to a child is a theoretical possibility.
"These authors have not only successfully treated several patients with a difficult clinical problem," added Professor Martin Birchall, who has conducted research on lab-grown windpipes, "but [they've also] addressed some of the most important questions facing translation of tissue engineering technologies."