​Scientists Successfully Grow Half A Dozen Human Penises In Laboratory

After more than 20 years of research, a team of scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina have successfully bioengineered human penises in the lab which may soon be transplanted safely on to patients.

In 2008, Anthony Atala and his colleagues successfully transplanted a bioengineered penis to 12 male rabbits. All the rabbits attempted to mate; in eight there was proof of ejaculation; and four went on to produce offspring.

The Guardian reports:

his work would fulfill a real need for men who have lost their penis through genital defects, traumatic injury, surgery for aggressive penile cancer, or even jilted lovers exacting revenge.

At present, the only treatment option for these men is to have a penis constructed with skin and muscle from their thigh or forearm. Sexual function can be restored with a penile prosthetic placed inside. The prosthetics can be either malleable rods, with the penis left in a permanently semi-rigid state and thus difficult to conceal, or inflatable rods, which have a saline pump housed in the scrotum. Both technologies have been around since the 1970s. The aesthetics are crude and penetration is awkward.

Another option is a penis transplant from another individual, but this carries a risk of immunological rejection. The chance of organ death can be lessened with anti-rejection drugs, but these drugs have serious side-effects. Transplants can also have a psychological impact, especially with an organ as intimate as the penis. In 2006, a Chinese man was the first to receive a donor penis; two weeks after the 15-hour operation, surgeons removed the transplanted organ on the request of both the patient and his partner.

Atala explains how the penises are grown in the lab:

In 1994, he figured he could take a helping hand from Mother Nature. Using a technique pioneered for biological skin dressings, he would take a donor penis and soak it in a mild detergent of enzymes for a couple of weeks to wash away the donor cells.

“You’re left with a mostly collagen scaffold – a skeleton if you like, that looks and feels just like the organ,” explains James Yoo, one of Atala’s collaborators at the institute. “Think of it like a building. If you remove all the furniture and the people, you’re still left with the main structure of the building. Then you replace the tenants with new ones. That’s the whole idea. It’s just that the building is a penis and the tenants are cells.”

The next step is to reseed the structure with the patient’s own cells taken in a biopsy from salvageable tissue and grown in culture. Smooth muscle cells, which relax during an erection to allow the vessels to dilate and the penis to fill with blood, are first, followed by endothelial cells which line the interior surface of blood and lymphatic vessels. When ready, the bioengineered penis is ready to be transplanted to the recipient.

Atala has successfully engineered half a dozen human penises in his lab and is currently testing them for “safety and effectiveness.”

One machine squashes, stretches and twists them to make sure they can stand up to the wear of everyday life; another pumps fluid into them to test erections. Sliced segments are tested at the genetic, cellular and physiological level.

Neither Atala nor Yoo will be pushed for a date for the first test in man, saying only that they’d expect it to occur within five years. “In the end we’re aiming for the entire size of the organ,” says Atala. “But in reality our first target is going to be partial replacement of the organ.”

Watch a 60 Minute’s report about the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine lab:

[H/T: Jezebel]