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Woman With Lab-Grown Vagina Says She's Grateful For Her "Normal Life"

The genetic condition Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome leaves roughly 1 in 4,500 women with incomplete genitals.

Posted on April 20, 2014, at 5:13 p.m. ET

A young woman who participated in a study for teens who could benefit from lab-engineered vaginas has spoken out on how her life has been changed, ABC News reported.

Metropolitan Autonomous University and Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine / Via

The unidentified Mexican woman took part in the study with three other patients between the ages of 13 to 18 who suffered from Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome, a genetic condition that left their vaginas incomplete.

“For me to be able to have the surgery, I feel very fortunate because I can have a normal life,” the woman said in a translated interview. “I know I’m one of the first. It is important to let other girls that have the same problem know that ... there is a treatment and you can have a normal life."

When the woman first learned of the study at 18 years old, she said she "couldn't believe it was true."

"I was informed about other procedures for this syndrome and it was unbelievable that it could be done in a lab,” she said.

The disorder affects roughly 1 in 4,500 women, according to the National Institutes of Health, and causes women to often not develop a uterus or full vagina. The external genitalia is generally unaffected, though, leaving the syndrome to frequently be undetected until the patient's late teens.

To do the procedure, researchers from Wake Forest University and the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico City biopsied cells from the patients to make the organs, which they built in the lab with biodegradable scaffolds.

"We were able to create a small piece of tissue and created an organ that we were then able to implant back into the patient," said Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center's Dr. Anthony Atala.

“For the process,” he explained, “we take a very small piece of tissue from the patient, less than half the size of a postage stamp, and we then tease the cells apart and grow the cells separately.”

"We then take a scaffold and we code the scaffold with the cells, putting one cell layer on one side layer, another cell layer on the other side, very much like making a sandwich, if you will."

After shaping the structure like the organ, it is put into an oven-like device that has the same conditions as the human body, "so that the tissue can mature before we implant it back into the patient," Atala said.

“By using their very own cells we can create the very same tissue that was supposed to be there.”

Since the operation took place eight years ago, researchers reported the subjects had normal sexual function and the organs remained "structurally and functionally normal."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.