An end to the suffering caused by the vaginal mesh scandal

23 July, Tim Burton 

The use of vaginal mesh has become a controversial topic with some patients having huge trouble after their surgery. In April, MPs called for all types of surgical mesh surgeries to be paused and research has shown that the failed surgeries are costing the NHS millions. Thanks to TUF funding, Emma is looking for an alternative.

What is a vaginal mesh?

In women, the pelvic floor often becomes weakened with age and following child birth. This can result in both stress urinary incontinence (SUI) and pelvic organ prolapse (POP). Around 40-50% of women over the age of 40 will experience problems with SUI and/or POP and around 10% of UK women will need vaginal mesh surgery to treat the problem.

What is the problem with vaginal mesh?

When vaginal mesh surgery goes wrong it can be hugely painful and disabling for patients. Women have reported severe and constant abdominal and vaginal pain, infections, and bleeding, with some patients no longer able to have sexual intercourse, or walk. Once the mesh has been implanted, it can be very difficult – sometimes impossible – to remove.

Research by Carl Heneghan at Oxford University has shown that the 101,516 women in England who have had vaginal mesh surgery since 2008/9, have then needed 993,035 outpatient appointments. This has cost the NHS £119 million.

Amidst all of this controversy, 800 women are taking legal action against the NHS and mesh manufacturers. 

How is TUF making a difference?

TUF has funded a number of researchers at the University of Sheffield to find an alternative to vaginal mesh. Previous funding has gone to Naside Mangir, who has produced a mesh that is made of a different material to the current mesh. It is made from a biodegradable polylactic acid (PLA) which has properties similar to the pelvic tissue and will integrate well within the pelvic environment. However, this biomaterial isn’t going to work on its own; it needs the patient’s stem cells to help the initial integration into the body.

Emma Mironska is picking up this research by working to discover a way to aid the initial integration into the body by combining the PLA mesh with the patient’s own fat cells. Her aim is to bring this new mesh one step closer to being used on patients.

What progress has been made?

So far, Emma’s research has developed a completely new way of creating PLA scaffolds (the structures required for the mesh) with inbuilt tunnels that can house the patient’s fat cells. Her research has demonstrated that the tunnels are a suitable environment for the cells and she now has her eye on the next steps.

“I’m working on a new way to get stem cells from fat cells. I want to know whether we can extract the cells mechanically, without having to use enzymes or culture cells in an incubator. If I can manage that, then patients will only need one surgical procedure where fat can be extracted from the patient, processed in the operating theatre, and then combined with the PLA mesh and implanted into the patient’s pelvic floor.”

 “Women are understandably concerned and deserve a treatment which has been rigorously tested and shown to improve their condition. At present I am engaged in the early steps towards this. If the combination of fat derived cells and PLA looks promising then it will require rigorous testing both in the laboratory and in animals before it can be trialled in patients.

“If successful, this research will open up a new treatment avenue for women who require pelvic floor repair.”

We are so pleased to see Emma progressing with this work. There has been too much suffering amongst women with vaginal mesh implants and, thanks to donations from our supporters, Emma and Naside are closer to providing a new reality for women the world over. If you want to help us fund more ground breaking projects like this one, you can donate today.

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