Researchers in China have used artificial tissue to restore erectile function in pigs, a promising development for repairing penile damage in humans.
“This is an area that has received little attention, but the related need is huge,” said Xuetao Shi, author of the study published Wednesday in the scientific journal Matter.
An estimated 50 percent of men between the ages of 40 and 70 experience some form of erectile dysfunction, the researchers said, and about 5 percent have Peyronie’s disease.
Peyronie’s disease, commonly caused by an injury during sex, involves damage to the fibrous sheath of penile tissue known as the tunica albuginea that helps maintain an erection.
Scar tissue called plaque can cause curved or painful erections or shortening of the penis and may require surgical treatment. The Chinese researchers said other body tissues have been used to make patches to replace a damaged tunica albuginea, but are sometimes rejected by the immune system.
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Instead, the research group created an artificial tunica albuginea (ATA) that mimics the elasticity of natural tissue with a substance called hydrogel. Hydrogels can be natural or synthetic and are being used for a growing number of biomedical applications, including contact lenses and tissue engineering.
For the study, the researchers tested the artificial tissue on Bama miniature pigs with lesions in the tunica albuginea.
ATA patches and a saline injection restored erectile function “similar to that of normal penile tissue,” they said. “Penis erection returned to normal after suturing the ATA on the injured side and the long-term prognosis was satisfactory. They said.
Shi, a researcher at South China University of Technology in Guangzhou, said that “the results one month after the procedure showed that the ATA group achieved good, although not perfect, repair results.” Lesions in humans “and potentially can” spread to many other burden tissues.
“Our work at this stage is focused on repairing a single penile tissue,” Shi said. “The next stage will be to consider the repair of the general penile defect or the construction of an artificial penis from a holistic perspective.” The researchers will also explore techniques to repair other tissues, including the heart and bladder, Shi said.