A woman born without a vagina has become the first in the world to undergo pioneering reconstructive surgery â using the skin of tilapia fish.
Jucilene Marinho has had a new vaginal canal created out of the skin of the freshwater fish.
The 23-year-old suffers from Mayer-Rokitansky-KÃ¼ster-Hauser (MRKH), a rare congenital disorder that affects approximately one in 5,000 newborn girls.
It results in the absence of some or all of the female reproductive organs.
She underwent the revolutionary procedure, known as neovaginoplasty, in north east Brazil last year.
Medics opened a space between her vagina and anus and inserted a tubular mould lined with the skin of the freshwater fish.
Once in contact with the patientâs body, tilapia skin acts like stem cells and is absorbed and transformed into cellular tissue forming the walls of the canal, similar to that of an actual vagina.
Before being used, the fish skin undergoes a special cleaning and sterilisation process in the lab followed by irradiation to kill viruses.
The process removes all the scales and fish smell and results in a light-coloured gel dressing that can be stored for up to two years in refrigerated sterile packaging.
An ecstatic Ms Marinho said the ground-breaking surgery has changed her life and she now feels like ‘a proper womanâ who enjoys a healthy sex life.
The young university student from Lavras da Mangabeira, was diagnosed in her teens with having no cervix, uterus, ovaries or womb.
However, to doctorsâ surprise she developed normally throughout puberty and even experienced menstrual cramping pains in her stomach but never had a period.
At the age of 15 she was given the crushing news there was nothing but connective tissue behind the skin blocking the opening of her vagina.
‘I cried a lot when I found out,â she recalled to FocusOn News. ‘I thought my world had ended. Iâd always dreamed of having a baby of my own now I had to accept that wouldnât be possible.â
She spiralled into a deep depression fearing she would never experience an intimate and loving relationship.
This worsened when a teenage boyfriend mocked and broke-up with her after discovering the disorder.
But last year, six months after agreeing to become the first of four women to have the experimental procedure, Ms Marinho had sex for the first time in her life with her partner Marcus Santos, 24, who she has been with for over a year and who has supported her throughout.
‘At first I was very scared to do it because I thought it would hurt and I was worried it might damage the opening.
‘But it was a wonderful moment because everything worked perfectly. There was no pain just a great deal of pleasure and satisfactionâ, Ms Marinho revealed happily.
The operation was led by gynaecologist, Dr Leonardo Bezerra, from the Assis Chateaubriand Maternity School (MEAC).
He said the procedure is less invasive surgically than the traditional method, which involves creating a vaginal canal using extensive grafts from the patientâs groin.
Neovaginaplasty, using fish skin, has a faster recovery rate with no visible scar tissue. Dr Bezerra added that the complications of rejection or infection were ‘minimal.â
Research shows that tilapia skin, normally thrown away as a waste product, contains large amounts of moisture and is rich in collagen type 1, a protein that promotes healing.
It is disease resistant and as strong and resilient as human skin.
It has been used for three years to treat burns victims and Dr Bezerra decided to try to make a vagina.
He said: ‘To make the ‘new vaginaâ we insert a vagina shaped acrylic mould, lined with the skin of tilapia, into the space created between the bladder and the rectum.
‘The device remains there for 10 days to prevent the walls from closing.
‘During this period the skin of the tilapia is absorbed, and the cells and growth factors released by the membrane transforms, like stem cells, into the patientâs tissue cells.
‘Finally, the patientâs body completely incorporates the tilapia skin becoming biocompatible with it.â