DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I’ve read a lot lately about regenerative medicine, and I’m wondering if there has been any research conducted on uterine, bladder, vaginal or rectal prolapse.
ANSWER: A number of research studies have been done to investigate pelvic organ prolapse and the possibility of treating it with regenerative medicine. Currently, Mayo Clinic in Arizona -- along with Arizona State University -- is involved in research regarding the treatment of vaginal prolapse using the principles of regenerative medicine.
Regenerative medicine is an emerging discipline in medicine and surgery, focused on finding ways to boost the body’s ability to heal itself. It examines new therapies and advances new ways to manage diseases that go beyond current medical treatment.
One strategy being explored in this type of medicine is called regeneration. Regeneration reprograms a person’s own cells in a laboratory. Those cells are then delivered back into the body, where they can help treat a medical condition or aid in healing. It is this kind of regenerative medicine that’s being investigated for pelvic organ prolapse.
Prolapse happens when pelvic floor muscles and ligaments stretch and weaken. They no longer provide enough support for the pelvic organs, allowing one or more of those organs to slip out of place. Defects in connective tissue, such as collagen and elastin, and problems in cells called fibroblasts may raise the risk for prolapse. In addition, vaginal birth is associated with a significant increase in a woman’s risk for prolapse.
Pelvic organ prolapse affects many women. Urinary incontinence, a problem closely associated with pelvic organ prolapse, also is quite common. About 15 percent of women have incontinence and about 3 percent experience prolapse at some point in their lives. Studies suggest that 19 percent of women have a lifetime risk of needing prolapse surgery. Recurrence of prolapse following surgery ranges from about 15 to 20 percent. The problem often returns because the tissue involved is too weak to keep organs in place.