Success! Functioning Anal Sphincter Grown in a Petri Dish

By Veronique Greenwood | August 10, 2011 3:59 pm

anal sphincter

Eyes, sperm, you name it: these days, chances are someone’s cooking it up on a little slab of agar and gearing up to graft/sew/implant it in anything that comes near. Today’s body part is the anal sphincter, that handy little ring of muscle that maintains the separation between your insides and your outsides. Researchers grew them from cells, implanted them in mice, and compared the new sphincters’ function with the animals’, ah, native orifices. And apparently, they were quite satisfactory.

You young whippersnappers out there might not realize it, of course. But malfunctioning sphincters are a big, messy problem as you get older, and a lot of people suffering from fecal incontinence (including women recovering from births, which can put everything down there out of whack) could benefit from this research. Right now, Depends or surgery with high rates of complication are what people with damaged sphincters have to choose from, and the possibility of replacing the muscle is intriguing.

The major step forward made here is that these sphincters, which were grown in a circular mold from human muscle biopsy cells and mouse nerve cells, could, by virtue of those nerve cells, communicate with the animal’s nervous system, a level of functionality that had not previously been reached. The big-picture goal is to build new sphincters from patients’ own cells, which could then be implanted without the immune system kicking up a fuss.

Now that’s what I call progress.

Image: Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine (Khalil Bitar et al), via USAToday

  • xiika

    GREAT news! We’re all going to need this one day!

  • peretz

    video please!

  • Brian Too

    Do you think the successful researchers who did this were anal retentive, or anal compulsive?

  • Pookle

    This could save hundreds of politicians’ lives in the future. (That’s where I assumed we’d be culling a-holes)

  • Natalie W. Rogers

    In all seriousness, it is a good thing as lots of folks who have had to deal with removal of parts of the bowel as it might lead to a replacement organs rather than the alternative which is a poop sack or in polite medical terms, a Colostomy bag.

    Still though, it would have been poetic if these were grown in the orbit of Uranus.


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