You know how people sometimes comment that something is “useless without pictures”? This is not one of those times. Khalil Bitar and his team at the University of Michigan Medical School have made the first working anal sphincters grown in a lab. They were made with smooth muscle cells from human sphincters (I hope the donors weren’t conscious for that) and gut nerve cells from mice. The completed sphincters were implanted on the upper backs of mice (dear God) and then they tested their functionality with electrical shocks and chemicals (the horror, the horror). The tests were a success, well, as much of a success it can be to tell people, “I succeeded in sewing lab-grown buttholes to a mouse’s back and then zapped that little fuzzball to kingdom come.”
Bitar is now testing the system in larger animals. The team will also have to demonstrate that the engineered sphincters can function effectively when implanted in place of existing sphincters in the anus as a prelude to trials in humans, which they hope to begin in three to five years. For those clinical trials, the plan is to obtain smooth muscle and gut nerve cells from patients themselves, then grow these into replacement sphincters for implantation. “We can custom-make them the size and diameter we want,” he says. [NewScientist, emphasis mine]
I know this is a big deal, medically speaking, but I can’t stop giggling. This research can potentially greatly improve quality of life for people whose sphincters are damaged, such as the elderly,
porn stars, and women injured during childbirth. And I’m not joking when I say it’s a huge improvement in quality of life. Pooping in a bag all the time isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds (and you could still do that after a sphincter transplant if you wish; we won’t judge). Also, it turns out it’s illegal to throw a bag of poo at airport security. Sure, now they tell me.