Author: By John von Radowitz, Press Association
Scientists in the US completely rebuilt the “stiffening” elements of the penis
from donor cells – and showed that they worked.
Rabbits given the implants attempted to mate within one minute of being
introduced to a female partner, and 83 per cent succeeded.
Study leader Professor Anthony Atala, director of the Institute for
Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University in New Carolina, said: “Our
results are encouraging and suggest that the technology has considerable
potential for patients who need penile reconstruction.
“Our hope is that patients with congenital abnormalities, penile cancer,
traumatic injury and some cases of erectile dysfunction will benefit from
this technology in the future.”
The mammalian penis is a surprisingly complex organ which once damaged is
difficult to repair.
Erections are achieved by means of two sponge-like cylinders, or “corporal
bodies”, on each side of the penis that fill with blood.
Disease and injury can lead to loss of the erectile tissue, which may also
waste away if no erections occur for too long. This is a risk faced by
patients who have had surgery for prostate cancer.
In extreme cases artificial silicone rods can be implanted into the penis but
they do not function in a natural way.
The new research focused on growing new erectile tissue in the laboratory from
First smooth muscle cells and endothelial cells, similar to those lining blood
vessels, were harvested from the erectile tissue of male rabbits.
Using a two-step process, these were then grown on a three-dimensional
collagen “scaffolds” bathed in chemicals.
Finally the scaffolds holding the developing cells were implanted into the
penises of rabbits whose erectile tissue had been surgically removed.
A month after the implants were inserted organised tissue with blood vessel
structures began to form.
Laboratory tests showed that the biological responses of the erectile tissue
were normal. During an erection, the release of nitric oxide from
endothelial cells leads to a relaxation of smooth muscle tissue and an
influx of blood.
The scientists used the implants to replace whole corporal bodies in 12 male
The acid test came when the rabbits were introduced to female partners. All
attempted to mate within one minute, and vaginal swabs showed that 10 of
them (83 per cent) managed to transfer sperm into the females. This occurred
as early as one month after the implants were inserted.
Most of an equal number of male rabbits lacking erectile tissue that did not
receive implants made no attempt to mate. None of them succeeded in
The same team was the first in the world to engineer a rudimentary human organ
in the laboratory. Bladders constructed by the Wake Forest scientists have
been implanted in almost 30 children and adults.
The research was published today in the journal Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences
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