Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Sci-Fi authors will tell you that the next big breakthrough in medical technology will be the ability to grow our own organs for transplants. In the idealized future, you'll have a heart or kidney cultured from your own cells on hand for whatever emergency might come up. Well, scientists have taken another step closer to creating functional replacement tissues, detailing the creation fully-functional penis part replacements in rabbits in a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. .

Yes, I did say penis part replacements. They are serious. Hey, if you're going to start figuring out how to make body parts, why not start with one so well-used?

The Wake Forest Baptist team that created these engineered penis tissues was the first in the world to engineer a human organ in the laboratory, creating bladders that have been implanted in about 30 people. But penile tissue is a much more complex challenge due to its form and function, and to date, no one has been able to surgically restore function to badly damaged penises.

To be clear, they didn't put cells in a petri dish and grow them into a penis. Technically, they engineered replacement corpora cavernosas, the columns of tissue that fill with blood during an erection. And even these weren't grown entirely from scratch; they used scaffolds made from functioning penises whose cells had been stripped away with detergents. They then added smooth muscle cells and endothelial cells that they cultured from rabbit erectile tissue. These scaffolds provided the necessary support and structure for the injected cells to develop properly.

In the end, they gave 12 male rabbits the Bobbit treatment and then replaced their lost parts with newly engineered ones. The researchers said the rabbits seemed to immediately notice the return of their missing appendage, and went at the females like, well, rabbits. Four of the 12 successfully became fathers.

"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," Anthony Atala, M.D. (institute director at Wake Forrest where the research was conducted) told HealthDay. This research gives new hope to those suffering from erectile dysfunction whose condition isn't treatable with drugs, although we're nowhere near ready to try this trick in people.


Stephanie B said...

I used to work NASA biotechnology, including the bioreactor which allows people to grow three dimensional constructs (a precursor to growing organs independently) which is much harder than you'd think. Even in the bioreactor, cell constructs were generally limited to a particular size (few cm)because it would start to get rounded by the apparatus.

In space, the lack of gravity shows promise for growing more. However, we were generally growing cartilege or cancer cells to study how they grew, not, um, male members.

Toolbit said...

If Viagra has shown us anything, it's that we'll have big dongs before we have a cure for cancer.

And that's what I call progress.

Toolbit out.

scicurious said...


But really, I think the reason they were working on erectile tissue is that, of the many tissues in the body, this is one of the most simple, and one of the easiest to get functioning. Of course, some people will use it for medical reasons, and most will get surgical enhancement to increase their...self-esteem.

Christina said...

I wonder if this could prove useful for trans men?

Nicholas said...

Heh, someone should tell Mr. Garrison. They talked about growing a penis out of cells on an episode of South Park a year or two ago lol.

Penguin collector: I keep the wounded... said...

Nothing seems larger than the egotistical need of men to feel virile.

Who knows though, often research meant for one purpose leads to another. I can always hope ...

Love the way everything you write has a touch of humor, a bit of you, an unusual perspective, and an accessibility into the technical detail to those of us far less knowledgeable.

You are a delightful read. Finally figured out how to add you to my RSS feeds in my mailbox! ;)