Scientists in the US have created an artificial penis that has helped rabbits with damaged genital mate normally and may one day help treat men with severe erectile dysfunction.
The technique used by Anthony Atala and colleagues at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, US, involves a new method of tissue engineering, reported the online edition of New Scientist.
The scientists, who hit the headlines last April with the first bio-engineered human bladder which was successfully implanted into patients, used the rabbits' own cells to build the spongy tissue structure that makes up the bulk of the penis.
The urologists implanted the artificially engineered penises into the rabbits and within a month the animals had resumed mating. The regenerated tissue also showed the same blood pressure during an erection as in normal rabbits.
Moreover, the rabbits with the corpora implants could still ejaculate sperm into their mates and impregnate them. All the females delivered healthy pups from these encounters, the researchers say.
In severe erectile dysfunction, known as corporal fibrosis, the spongy corpora tissue does not get enough oxygen and begins to get replaced by scar tissue. Growing new spongy corpora tissue for implantation could help these patients, the researchers say.
Experts caution, however, that researchers would have to establish that the engineered corporal chambers were properly integrated with the rest of the organ - this includes making sure all the blood vessels are connected so that the new tissue functions and does not turn into scar tissue like the original tissue.