In the treated rabbits, tests showed that pressure inside the penis, a key component of an erection, was normal. Other tests showed that blood flow, response to nitric oxide, drainage of the blood after the erection and presence of sperm in the female vagina were also normal. The tissue engineering worked so well that four of 12 females were impregnated by the repaired rabbits, according to the study.
Dr. Andrew McCullough, director of male sexual health, fertility and microsurgery at NYU Langone Medical Center, said the results are promising.
"It has a long way to go, but the researchers have basically shown they can take cells from an organ, culture them, put them back in and have them be functional," McCullough said. "This is especially impressive because the penis is an organ that's a very sensitive hydraulic pump, so to speak. During an erection, blood has to flow into the organ. The organ then has to expand and then shut down the drainage so the blood doesn't flow back out. And all of these things are very interrelated."
Better treatments for erectile dysfunction are badly needed, McCullough added. About 35 percent of men don't respond to impotence drugs, including Viagra, Cialis and Levitra. As men age, diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension -- all conditions that can affect male sexual function -- can worsen, making the drugs less effective.
In previous research, the Wake Forest researchers engineered human bladders in the lab. In clinical trials, about 30 children and adults with congenital bladder abnormalities or bladder injuries who were treated with the engineered tissue showed normal or improved bladder function for
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