MRS: Engineering sexual reproduction

Tony Atala of Wake Forest University is a pioneer in the field of regenerative medicine. He was first to implant an organ grown in the laboratory into humans – a bladder. Now he has taken the technology to a new level.

In Symposium X (Frontiers of materials research) Atala presented data published in a recent PNAS paper showing tissue engineered penises can be implanted into rabbits and can be fully sexually functioning. A particular challenge was the degree of vascularisation which is required for full function. As exciting were his hints to unpublished work in which his team have grown a fully functioning engineered uterus in the lab and implanted it into an animal which has subsequently conceived and grown a pup to full term. The animal suffered no ill effects and the uterus shrunk back to its normal size after birth.

Atala emphasised developments in growth factor biology as an important advance in the field of regenerative medicine. From a materials perspective, he also pointed out that the scaffolds used as the basis for his engineered organs must closely resemble the mechanical and structural properties of the tissue to be replaced.


Rosamund Daw (Senior Editor, Nature)