Functional Penis Regrown in Rabbits – Potential to Someday Treat Severe Erectile Dysfunction in Men

November 9, 2009

(ChattahBox) —  Reporting online in the Nov. 9-13 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine say they’ve found a way to replace penile erectile tissue and function in animals, after experimenting with rabbits. I was a little worried how they got the poor lab rabbits in a state where they needed a new penis, but apparently they used just the cells from rabbits to grow replacement penile tissue in the laboratory for the animals.

“The major challenge is that the penis is a solid organ,” said Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest. “With this project, it was also a challenge to determine the ideal mix of smooth muscle and endothelial cells that would allow for normal function.”

Dr. Atala’s team first created a scaffold using the penis of a rabbit, and removed all the living cells from it, leaving only cartilage. They then took a small piece of tissue from the penis of another rabbit and grew the cells in a lab dish. After the cells had matured, the scaffolding and the newly formed penile spongy tissue, called corpora cavernosa, was surgically implanted into the rabbits’ penises. About a month later, the tissue began to reconstitute itself, forming new blood vessel structures necessary for proper functioning, while nerves from the existing penile tissue integrated into the new tissue. In time, Atala said, the collagen structure was reabsorbed, and the cells built their own collagen structure.

Atala said the work has taken his team 18 years to complete. “We had to find the right growth factors, the right soup to grow the cells in,” he said.

Rabbits with the engineered penises attempted to have sex with females within a minute of the time they met and were able to produce offspring. Rabbits that had not been given the implanted tissue did not attempt copulation, in most cases. When the animals with the engineered tissue mated with females, vaginal swabs contained sperm in eight of 12 instances and four of the 12 females were impregnated.

Though a human application is a ways off, Dr. Atala says the technique could one day be used to treat severe erectile dysfunction in men:

“We were able to show the tissue was able to integrate and function in the long term, which means we can start planning clinical applications [in humans]. Our hope is to be able to treat patients with many conditions, including congenital abnormalities of the penis, traumatic injuries, penile cancer and severe cases of erectile dysfunction that don’t benefit from drug treatments.”

Sources: BreakThroughDigest Medical News & USNews


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