Rabbit study a model for uterine rebuild in humans


Paris (AFP)

Advances in bioengineering have helped repair severely damaged uteruses in rabbits through cellular tissue engineering, researchers said in a study published Monday.

The breakthrough, scientists believe, offers hope for partial reconstruction in women afflicted with so-called uterine factor infertility, which accounts for about six percent of all infertility cases.

Currently, the only way for a woman with this condition to give birth is with a transplanted uterus.

A team at Wake Forest University in North Carolina implanted biodegradable polymer scaffolds -- engineered tissue partially generated from one's own cells -- into damaged rabbit uteruses.

Six months after implantation, the new tissue appeared no different than in non-damaged uterus, they reported in Nature Biotechnology.

Furthermore, four in 10 rabbits that had received the cell-engineered tissue had normal births, while none of those who hadn't received the reparative treatment did.

"Our results introduce new avenues for potentially creating tissue substitutes derived from a patient's own cells to treat uterine defects," the authors concluded.

Tissue bioengineering offers an alternative to organ transplant, which is hampered by a lack of donors and requires the recipient to take immunosuppressive drugs.

Similar bioengineering techniques have already been used for human bladders, blood vessels, urethras and vaginas.

But human uteruses have yet to be restored using this technique, partially because of their complexity compared to other organs.

Scientists not involved in the study noted that more animal experiments are needed before moving to human clinical trials.

While bioengineered tissue for uterine replacement is an "attractive and novel technology, it may not be as close to translation as the authors and many of us would like to see," said Dusko Ilic, a professor at King's College London.

"The next experiment is not a partial replacement of the uterus but a total replacement of the uterus," said John Hunt, a professor at Nottingham Trent University in the UK.

But the findings, reported in Nature Biotechnology, are an important first step, the authors said.

"Larger animal models, where one can replace critical-size defects with engineered constructs, are important in highlighting potentially human clinically relevant regeneration," they said.