Behold the Artificial Anus

Scientists at Wake Forest, the University of Michigan, and Emory University have reported a bioengineering breakthrough that is both medically important, and probably a serious contender for an IgNobel prize. As they explain in the latest issue of Gastroenterology:

We cocultured human IAS [internal anal sphincter] circular smooth muscle with immortomouse fetal enteric neurons. We investigated the ability of bioengineered innervated human IAS, implanted in RAG1−/− mice, to undergo neovascularization and preserve the physiology of the constituent myogenic and neuronal components.

They then implanted this structure into mice, and it operated pretty much as it should. Yes, that’s right: they built a working artificial asshole.

Go ahead and laugh. Get it out of your system. If you’re a scientifically illiterate Senator, go ahead and call some ludicrous press conference to lampoon this as a silly waste of taxpayer money.

Are we done with that part? Good. Now think.

If you’re having trouble doing that, perhaps the press release accompanying the article will help:

There is a high incidence of weakened internal fecal sphincters in older adults; and women who have had episiotomies during childbirth can also be affected. “Many individuals find themselves withdrawing from their social lives and attempting to hide the problem from their families, friends, and even their doctors,” said Bitar. “Many people suffer without help.”

Current options for repair of the internal anal sphincter include grafts of skeletal muscle, injectable silicone material or implantation of mechanical devices, all of which have high complication rates and limited success.

He adds that the new work could provide a superior option for treating this and other debilitating problems:

“While we have numerous challenges to meet, we have crossed a major hurdle,” said Bitar. “This proof of concept research suggests that this strategy may be useful for treating a variety of neuromuscular conditions of the intestine. In addition, it could potentially be applied to other diseases of sphincter muscles, including urinary incontinence.”

So, who feels like an asshole now?