The boys have been doing well for as long as six years, according to the study. The results show "that these are actually able to work in the long term, and that they're able to grow with the patient," Atala said.
He said it costs about $5,000 to create a replacement urethra. He didn't know the cost of the surgery but said the procedure would save money over time because these types of procedures would not need to be redone, unlike the method currently used.
In the big picture, Atala said, the findings could pave the way for the creation of other tube-like structures in the body, such as replacement arteries.
For now, however, products of tissue engineering are rarely used in medicine outside of skin grafts, said Nenad Bursac, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University. One hurdle is cost, he said.
However, Bursac said, research is continuing and scientists are in the early stages of testing products for the repair of cartilage, the cornea and the heart.
Cornell University has more about tissue engineering.
SOURCES: Anthony Atala, M.D., director, Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C.; Karl-Dietrich Sievert, M.D., professor, urology, and director, uro-oncology, neurourology, incontinence and reconstructive urology, University of Tuebingen, Germany; Nenad Bursac, Ph.D., associate professor, biomedical engineering, Duke University, Durham, N.C.; March 8, 2011, The Lancet, online
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