Research Named a Top Medical Breakthrough of the Year

December 8, 2011

Research led by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine has been named one of the top 10 medical breakthroughs of the year byTime magazine. The research team was the first in the world to use patients’ own cells to build tailor-made urine tubes in the lab and successfully replace damaged tissue in five boys.

The research, reported in March 2011 in the medical journal The Lancet, is No. 5 on Time’s list of medical breakthroughs. In the special feature, “Top 10 Everything of 2011,” the publication “surveys the highs and lows, the good and the bad, of the past 12 months.”

Time says the breakthrough is “a promising step toward a new world of regenerative medicine where creating healthy body tissues to replace diseased ones isn't such a mad idea.”

Between March 2004 and July 2007, engineered urethras were built for five boys, ages 10 to 14, using the patients’ own cells. Three patients had widespread injury due to pelvic trauma and two patients had previous urethra repairs that had failed. The engineered tubes were used to replace entire segments of damaged urethra in the section that runs between the penis and the prostate (posterior section) -- considered the most difficult to repair. The children in the study were treated at the Federico Gomez Children’s Hospital in Mexico City. 

The team of Anthony Atala, M.D., director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, had used a similar approach to engineer replacement bladders that were implanted in nine children beginning in 1998, becoming the first in the world to implant laboratory-grown organs in humans. Researchers at the institute are currently working to engineer more than 30 different replacement tissues and organs.

Media Relations

Karen Richardson:, 336-716-4453