A woman born without a vagina has become the first in the world to undergo reconstructive surgery to have one built out of fish skin.
Medics then found nothing but connective tissue behind the skin covering what should have been Jucilene’s vagina and diagnosed her with the rare congenital condition, Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH).
Jucilene Marinho, 23, from Ceará, Brazil, underwent a neovaginoplasty in April last year after being born with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hause (MRKH) left her with no cervix, uterus or ovaries – meaning she will never have children.
The procedure, performed at the Federal University of Ceara involved creating an opening where Ms Marinho’s vagina should have been before inserting a genital-shaped mould lined with the skin of the freshwater fish tilapia.
The fish skin was then absorbed into her body and transformed into tissue that lines the vaginal tract.
After spending three weeks in hospital, Ms Marinho – the first of four patients given the procedure – was discharged and is now thrilled with the results.
She said: ‘My family and friends took me out to “toast” my new vagina!’
“Doctors gave me the all clear to have sex in October last year,” Jucilene said.
“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.
“Everything felt sensitive in what I’m told is the right and normal way.
“It was perfectly natural like the opening had always been there.”
Ms Marinho, who spiraled into a deep depression when she thought she would never have an intimate relationship, has even been able to have sex for the first time with her boyfriend of over a year Marcus Santos, 24.
She added: ‘It was a wonderful moment because everything worked perfectly. There was no pain just a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction.’
Once in contact with the patient’s body, tilapia skin acts like stem cells and is absorbed and transformed into cellular tissue forming the walls of the canal, similar to an actual vagina.
Before it’s used, the fish skin is cleaned and sterilised in the lab, before irradiation to kill viruses.
The process also removes all the scales and fishy smell.
It is less invasive surgically than the traditional method, which involves creating a vaginal canal using extensive grafts from the patient’s groin.
Some 23 patients have undergone the conventional treatment at MEAC over the past 10 years.
“This procedure can be time consuming and painful as the patient needs to recover from a large incision which leaves a scar that can be unsightly and stigmatising. There is also the possibility of discomfort with the reconstructed tissue,” Dr Bezerra explained.
By comparison, neovaginaplasty has a faster recovery rate with no visible scars. There are minimal complications with no risk of rejection or infections, the doctor said.
In addition, medical costs and materials are low — a significant benefit in a public health system strapped for cash — with operating times quicker and an abundance of the inexpensive, mild-tasting tilapia fish readily available from Brazil’s rivers and fish farms.
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 resistant to disease and is as strong and resilient as human skin.
Since 2015, scientists at the UFC Research and Development of Medicines Nucleus co-ordinated by Professor Odorico Moraes, have been trialling a radical procedure that uses the moisture-filled skin of the freshwater fish to heal more than 200 victims with severe burns — with notable success.
The normal regime is painful and involves regular changes of gauze bandages along with painkillers and ointments.