The procedure could prove an effective alternative to conventional treatments that inject bulking agents such as collagen into the urethra.
Animal trials have already suggested that transurethral injections of autologous myoblasts regenerate the rhabdosphincter, and fibroblasts the urethral submucosa.
For the latest study, 42 women with stress urinary incontinence were assigned transurethral ultrasonography-guided injections of autologous myoblasts and fibroblasts by researchers from the Medical University of Innsbruck.
A control group of 21 women who also had stress urinary incontinence received conventional treatment with endoscopic injections of collagen.
Assessment 12 months later showed that 38 of the 42 women in the treatment group were completely continent, compared with two in the control group.
Additionally, ultrasonography showed rhabdosphincter thickness increased from 2.13mm to 3.38mm in women in the treatment group, compared with an increase from 2.13mm to 2.23mm in the collagen group.
Rhabdosphincter contractility also showed a marked increase in women assigned transurethral injections of myoblasts and fibroblasts, increasing from 0.58mm to 1.56mm. However, little improvement was noted for change in urethra thickness.
No adverse effects were reported in any of the 63 patients, say the researchers.
Professor Paul Abram, chairman of the Bristol Urology Institute at Southmead Hospital, said while the research is 'exciting', further work is needed in independent research centres.
'It's hard to know how it works because you don't know if the implant is still alive,' he added.
Lancet 2007; 369: 2,179-86
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