Stem Cell Research
Researchers construct erectile tissue in rabbits
Nov 23, 2009 - 5:25:07 PM

The day is not far off when surgeons will be able to reconstruct or replace damaged or diseased penile tissue in humans and enable them to return to a normal life, says a new study.

Researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Centre's - Institute for Regenerative Medicine - have used tissue engineering techniques to completely replace penile erectile tissue in rabbits.

After implantation, the rabbits had normal sexual function and produced offspring.

Researchers successfully grew erectile tissue from rabbit cells in the lab. This is the most complete replacement of functional penile erectile tissue to date.

The erectile tissue they engineered is known as the corpora cavernosa penis. Two columns of this sponge-like tissue form a significant part of the penis.

These structures, which are bound together with connective tissue and covered with skin, fill with blood during erection.

'Further studies are required, of course, but our results are encouraging and suggest that the technology has considerable potential for patients who need penile reconstruction,' said Anthony Atala, director of IRM.

'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.'

Reconstructing damaged or diseased penile erectile tissue has traditionally been a challenge because of the tissue's unique structure and complex function. There is no replacement for this tissue that allows for normal sexual function.

Various surgeries have been attempted, often multi-stage procedures that can involve a silicone penile prosthesis, but natural erectile function is generally not restored.

Wake Forest scientists were the first in the world to engineer a human organ in the lab, bladders that have been implanted in almost 30 children and adults. Many of the same techniques used to build bladders were used in the current study, said a Wake Forest release.

'These results are encouraging,' said Atala. 'They indicate the possibility of using laboratory-engineered tissue in men who require reconstructive procedures. A lack of erectile tissue currently prevents us from restoring sexual function to these patients.'

These findings were published in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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