Watch CBSN Live

Bioengineered anal sphincter could transform fecal incontinence care

sphincter, wake forest
Lab technician working at Wake Forest "seeds" cells as part of effort to create world's first bbioengineered sphincter. Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

(CBS) What's best for a wrecked rectum? Maybe an auxiliary anus.

Kidding aside, scientists say they've created the world's first replacement anal sphincter, the circular muscle that rings the rectum - and predict it could make an effective treatment for fecal incontinence. That's potentially big news for people suffering from the embarrassing condition, given the limited effectiveness of the electrical implants, muscle grafts, and other treatments now in use.

"In essence, we have built a replacement sphincter that we hope can one day benefit human patients," study author Dr. Khalil N. Bitar, a professor at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center's Institute for Regenerative Medicine, said in a written statement.

Using human muscle and nerve cells, scientists were able to make the bioengineered sphincters in about six weeks. The sphincters worked normally when implanted in mice. The ultimate goal of Bitar's effort is for doctors to take muscle and nerve cells from individual fecal incontinence patients and use them to create "personalized, hard-wired" sphincters that would not be rejected by an immune response.

The research was detailed in the July 2011 issue of the journal Gastroenterology.

Calling his work "proof of concept research," Dr. Bitar said bioengineered sphincters might prove useful in the treatment of urinary as well as fecal incontinence, a term that covers both the inability to hold a bowel movement until reaching a bathroom and the accidental leakage of solid or liquid stool while passing gas.

Nearly 18 million U.S. adults have fecal incontienence. Risk factors for the condition include nerve or muscle damage, hemorrhoids, poor overall health, and injury to the "pelvic floor" tissues during childbirth.

The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse has more on fecal incontinence.