"So for patients with prostate cancer, being able to have an erection and lead a normal life after treatment is very important," she noted.
Nonsurgical treatments for erectile dysfunction are only effective in a minority of patients with cavernous nerve damage, she noted.
The new study findings may also apply to any damaged peripheral nerve, such as the sciatic nerve or facial nerve, that needs this protein to maintain its structure, Podlasek said.
Podlasek presented her study findings at the recent American Urological Association 2010 Annual Meeting.
When a man's cancerous prostate gland is removed, the fragile cavernous nerve is often damaged when it is crushed or pulled during surgery. Once the nerve is damaged, smooth muscle cells quickly begin to die in the penis. The consequent scarring prevents the smooth muscle from relaxing and allowing blood to flow into its tissue to become erect.
"Once the smooth muscle starts to die off, you don't get an erection or you get less of an erection," Podlasek said. "The muscle damage is irreversible, so it's essential to heal the damaged nerve as quickly as possible."
Her goal is to regenerate the nerve more quickly to reduce the damage downstream in the penis. "When the nerve is functional, you get normal erectile function," she said. "It's two pieces to a puzzle."
For the current study, Podlasek combined sonic hedgehog with a nanofiber gel designed by study coauthor Samuel I. Stupp, the Board of Trustees Professor of Chemistry, Materials Science and Engineering, and Medicine at Northwestern. The gel traps the protein as it self-assembles into linear nanofibers, which resemble slender threads made out of gel. Podlasek applied the nanofibers to crushed cavernous nerves in rats. When she examined the nerves six weeks later, they had regenerated twice
|Contact: Marla Paul|