In mammals, the tunica albuginea (TA) tissue in the penis is characterised by a double-layer structure composed of collagen protein fibers that undergo straightening and stretching during erection to mediate a soft-to-firm transition.
Previous studies suggest that about half of men between the ages of 40 and 70 experience some form of erectile dysfunction and an estimated 5 per cent suffer from a condition in which scar tissue forms in the TA tissue, causing pain and a range of other effects.
The artificial tunica albuginea (ATA), described in the new study published in the journal Matter on Wednesday, mimics the naturual fibrous sheath of tissue necessary to maintain erections.
“We noticed that this is an area that has received little attention, yet the related need is huge,” study co-author Xuetao Shi from the South China University of Technology said in a statement.
“We largely foresaw the problems and results of the ATA construction process, but we were still surprised by the results in the animal experiments, where the penis regained normal erection immediately after the use of ATA,” Dr Shi said.
Scientists tested ATA made of polyvinyl alcohol – which has a curled fiber structure and biomechanical properties similar to that of the natural tissue – in Bama miniature pigs with injuries to their TA.
They analysed the artificial tissue’s toxicity and blood compatibility as it is designed to remain in the body for long periods of time.
Researchers found that patches made from the artificial tissue could restore erectile function in the pigs.
The erectile function in the pigs was restored in such a way that it was similar to that of normal penile tissue, suggesting the patch can successfully replace the natural tissues’ function.
When the effect of the ATA patches was analysed after a month, they found it achieved a normal erection after the penis was injected with saline.
They also found that while the artificial tissue did not restore the microstructure of surrounding natural tissue, it developed scarring comparable to that in normal tissue.
“The results one month after the procedure showed that the ATA group achieved good, though not perfect, repair results,” Dr Shi said.
In further studies, scientists hope to consider the repair of the overall penile defect or the construction of an artificial penis from a holistic perspective.
“ATA displays the capability to repair injuries and restore normal erectile function of the TA-damaged penile tissue in a pig model. Our study demonstrates that ATA has great promise for penile injury repair,” researchers wrote in the study.
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