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Regrowth of functional penile tissue in rabbits

Jenny Decker RN's picture

For some, researching how to help men become functional again may be embarrassing. However, for Dr. Anthony Atala of the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine this research means that he can help with potential medical problems, not just cosmetic details. Dr. Atala’s research has led to regrowth of a functional penis in rabbits.

In an early issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Atala’s research was published Monday. Dr. Atala and his research team were able to regrow the erectile tissue of the penis in rabbits. The primary reason rabbits were used is because of the similarity of rabbit erectile tissue to human erectile tissue.

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Erectile function of the rabbit penis was reconstructed by harvesting smooth muscle and endothelial cells from the penis of a rabbit. These are the same type of cells that line the blood vessels. When the muscle and endothelial cells relax, then blood is free to run through. This is was produces the erection.

In the laboratory, the cells were added to a three-dimensional scaffolding that held them in place while developing and multiplying. After one month, Dr. Atala and his team were able to transplant the cells into several rabbits. The next step was to see how the rabbits responded to the new erectile implants.

When placed with the female rabbits, the males were able to have sex and even impregnant several of the female rabbits. This is promising because now the researchers can take the study further and find out how erectile tissue can be developed in humans. Researchers are hopeful to be able to use the same method in humans as that used in rabbits.

The reconstruction of erectile tissue is a complicated one. These researchers have already reconstructed bladders that have been implanted into about 30 children and adults already. The problem with erectile tissue is that it is much more complicated and difficult to replicate. With this new development, which has been 18 years in the process, new hope is available to those who have damaged or diseased erectile tissue.