Bioengineered Penis On the Horizon

Professor Anthony Atala

Professor Anthony AtalaIn a weird (but potentially wonderful) advancement in science, scientists may soon be able to bio-engineer you a penis. This development could help men who’ve suffered penile injuries, congenital penile deformities or those born with ambiguous genitalia. First human trial could start soon!

What Are Bioengineered Penises?

Bioengineering includes the science of creating biological body parts, through the use of biology. One of the most infamous examples of a bioengineered body part is ears, created from cow and sheep tissue, and then implanted onto the back of mice or rats, to ensure they don’t lose their shape after implantation.

Professor Anthony Atala and his fellow researchers at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, are going beyond ears though. Using tissue engineering and regenerative medicine advanced techniques they’ve grown penises in their lab.

How Do They Bioengineer Penises?

engineered-ear-with-mouseSo far, these bioengineered penises have been successfully implanted on rabbits. The researchers have now requested permission from the FDA to begin human trials. Unlike the ears, the penises will be grown using the patient’s own penis cells. This will help minimize the risk of immunological rejection, after transplant.

A donor penis is washed in a mild detergent, to remove the donor cells. In two weeks, a collagen scaffold of the penis remains. This is then seeded with the patient’s cells, which have been cultured for four to six weeks.  The smooth muscle cells are added first, then the endothelial cells, which line the blood vessels. Because this method uses the person’s own penis cells, it won’t be able to be used for female-to-male sex reassignment surgery.

The research is currently being funded by the US Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine, hoping to use it for men of the military who suffer penile injuries.

Fully Functional?

Although researchers are feeling confident in their ability to offer patients a cosmetic penis, the functionality of it is still in question. Urinating through the bioengineered penis will definitely be possible; however, it’s still left to be seen whether or not the penis will be able to get an erection. 

“My concern is that they might struggle to recreate a natural erection,” Dr. Atala said. “Erectile function is a coordinated neurophysiological process starting in the brain, so I wonder if they can reproduce that function or whether this is just an aesthetic improvement. That will be their challenge.”

Currently, men can have a penis created from a flap of skin from their forearm or thigh, which is then fitted with a prosthetic device to simulate an erection. Professor Woo, on of Dr. Atala’s colleagues, notes that their research could also be used to just produce some of the parts within a penis. This could be used to cure erectile dysfunction in some men.

Kimberly Wylie

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