Fish skin used to create new vagina
A novel reconstruction procedure using skin from a freshwater fish has been used to create a vagina for a Brazilian woman born with Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hause (MRKH) syndrome. Women with MRKH have a congenital malformation resulting in the absence of a uterus, cervix and ovaries, as well as vaginal hypoplasia in its upper portion.
Jucilene Marinho, 23, who was only diagnosed with MRKH at the age of 15, had the neovaginoplasty procedure at the Federal University of Ceara in northeastern Brazil. It involved creating an opening where the vagina should have been using an acrylic mould lined with the skin of a Brazilian freshwater fish, the tilapia.
The procedure using fish skin is considered to be less invasive and painful compared with the more conventional method of using skin grafts from the patient’s groin area. The fish skin, which is rich in collagen, is descaled and undergoes a cleaning and sterilisation process which leaves behind a light-coloured gel. Once inserted using the mould, the fish skin stimulates cellular growth and the formation of blood vessels and is eventually absorbed into the human tissue that lines the vaginal tract. The mould remains in situ for 10 days to ensure the newly created vaginal walls do not close up.
Ms Marinho, who suffered severe depression after her diagnosis, is the first of four patients to undergo neovaginoplasty incorporating tilapia skin. She spent three weeks in hospital and suffered some minor internal bleeding following the procedure, but was eventually able to have enjoyable sexual relations with her boyfriend.
The use of tilapia skin was initially pioneered in severe burn victims. In addition to its high levels of collagen type 1, the fish skin stays moist longer than gauze, and does not need to be changed frequently in burns patients, doctors found. Around 200 burns victims have now been treated with tilapia skin.