Lab-grown penises developed by scientists and now 'ready for human tests'

Scientists have developed technology to help patients who have congenital abnormalities or suffered a traumatic injury.

Helen Lock
Monday 06 October 2014 06:34 BST
A researcher looks at a sample in a lab
A researcher looks at a sample in a lab

Scientists have developed lab-grown penises to help men who have congenital abnormalities or suffered a traumatic injuries, the Observer has reported.

The engineered penises were developed by researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina, USA, and are currently awaiting approval to be tested on humans.

The work is funded by the US Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine, which hopes to use the technology to help soldiers with battlefield injuries. Professor Anthony Atala, director of the institute, told the Observer the target is to get the organs into patients with injuries or congenital abnormalities. The penises would be grown using a patient's own cells to avoid the risk of immunological rejection after organ transplantation.

Atala previously led a successful project engineering penises for rabbits in 2008. The previous work on rabbits showed that once the tissue was there the body recognises it as its own.

"The rabbit studies were very encouraging," he said, "but to get approval for humans we need all the safety and quality assurance data, we need to show that the materials aren't toxic, and we have to spell out the manufacturing process, step by step.”

Atala told Reuters that, as a paediatric urologist, the inspiration for his work was seeing babies born with deficient genitalia, and there being “no good options." Penis transplants from human donors have proved controversial in the past, with the first successful transplant having to be removed two weeks later. The surgery was carried out in 2005 in China, yet had to be reversed because of the psychological problems experienced by the then 44-year-old man and his wife. The surgeon, Dr Hu Weiile wrote in a report afterwards: "because of a severe psychological problem of the recipient and his wife, the transplanted penis regretfully had to be cut off." Penis transplant surgery is not common, and while it is not much more complex than other transplants, doctors question whether transplants can make the organ fully functional.

The Wake Forest Institute is currently working on 30 different types of tissues and organs and has been successful at developing lab grown organs in the past - the institute orchestrated the first human bladder transplant in 1992, the first urethra in 2004 and the first vagina in 2005.

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