Four out of ten rabbits had normal pregnancies and live births after their injured uteri were repaired by a method of tissue engineering using the rabbits’ own cells, according to a paper published in Nature Biotechnology. This approach may have potential implications for women affected by uterine infertility in the future.
Approximately six percent of women undergoing infertility treatment have dysfunction of the uterus. Uterine transplantation from live or deceased donors has successfully enabled live births in humans, but the lack of donor organs and the need for immunosuppressive drug regimens to support the transplanted uterus limit its use. Bioengineering approaches have been shown to repair small uterine defects in rodents, but live birth in these or larger animals had not yet been achieved.
Anthony Atala and colleagues implanted biodegradable polymer scaffolds — some with the rabbits’ own uterine cells inserted within the matrix and some without — into the damaged uteri of 78 rabbits. The rabbits’ uteri were examined at one, three and six months. The authors observed that the scaffolds had degraded three months after implantation. By six months after implantation, the authors observed no obvious differences between the engineered and native tissues. Four of the ten rabbits that received scaffolds seeded with uterine cells had normal pregnancies to term, but none of the ten rabbits that received unseeded scaffolds did.
Similar tissue-engineered scaffolds have been successfully used to repair other tubular tissues in humans — including the vagina, urethra and bladder — and the approach described in this study may also translate to humans. However, the authors note that not all animals had successful pregnancies, and further animal studies are needed before this method can be tested in humans.
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