Scientists have developed an artificial tissue that successfully restored penile function in pigs and shows promise to one day be used on humans.
The ‘bionic penis’ effectively mimics a fibrous sheath of tissue that is necessary to maintain erections, called tunica albuginea, which pumps blood to the penis.
About half of men between the ages of 40 and 70 reportedly experience some form of erectile dysfunction, while an estimated five per cent suffer from Peyronie’s disease, which is thought to occur as a result of injury from sex.
Experts at the South China University of Technology in Guangzhou, China said the pigs involved in their study regained normal erection function with the help of the artificial tunica albuginea (ATA).
Scientists have developed an artificial tissue that successfully restored penile function in pigs and shows promise to one day be used on humans. The synthetic tissue effectively mimics a fibrous sheath of tissue that is necessary to maintain erections, called tunica albuginea
WHAT IS TUNICA ALBUGINEA?
The tunica albuginea is the protective layer around the erectile tissue of the penis which pumps blood to this area.
It is directly involved in maintaining an erection because the Buck’s fascia constricts the erection veins of the penis, preventing blood from leaving and thus sustaining the erect state.
The tunica albuginea can be damaged during sex, causing Peyronie’s disease.
‘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,’ said study author Xuetao Shi, a researcher at the South China University of Technology.
‘The greatest advantage of the ATA we report is that it achieves tissue-like functions by mimicking the microstructure of natural tissues.
‘This design approach is not limited to the biomimetic design of tunica albuginea tissues but can be extended to many other load-bearing tissues.’
Shi said his team’s research had now turned to solving issues with male reproductive health, including erectile dysfunction, infertility, and Peyronie’s disease, a connective tissue disorder where scar tissue forms in the tunica albuginea, causing pain.
While many previous studies have focused on repairing the urethra, Shi said that less research had looked at restoring erectile function.
However, it is not the first time that researchers have tried to fix damaged tunica albuginea tissue.
The difference is that in the past, studies have looked at making patches from other tissues in a patient’s body, but the problem with this is their immune system often rejects them or complications occur.
Because their microstructures are different from that of natural tunica albuginea, it is also difficult for these patches to replace the natural tissue effectively.
To address this issue, the South China University of Technology researchers developed ATA based on polyvinyl alcohol, which has a curled fibre structure similar to that of the natural tissue.
As a result, the artificial material has biomechanical properties that mimic those of tunica albuginea.
The first thing researchers had to do was establish whether the synthetic material was toxic to any other tissues in the human body, as it is designed to remain in the body for a long time, and found that it should not be harmful.
They then tested the ATA in miniature pigs with injuries to their tunica albuginea.
The scientists found that patches made from the artificial tissue restored erectile function to such an extent that it was almost the equivalent of normal penile tissue.
They then analysed the artificial tissue a month on and found that it helped to achieve a normal erection after the penis was injected with saline.
‘The results one month after the procedure showed that the ATA group achieved good, though not perfect, repair results,’ said Shi.
The scientists found that patches made from the artificial tissue (bottom right) restored erectile function to such an extent that it was almost the equivalent of normal penile tissue (top left). Bottom left shows the penis following a tunica albuginea injury
Shi noted that in penile injuries the tunica albuginea is usually not the only tissue damaged.
Surrounding nerves and the corpus cavernosum, the spongy tissue that runs through the penis’ shaft, are often damaged as well, making repairs even more difficult.
‘Our work at this stage focuses on the repair of a single tissue in the penis, and the next stage will be to consider the repair of the overall penile defect or the construction of an artificial penis from a holistic perspective,’ Shi added.
He said his team now wants to investigate techniques to repair other tissues, including the heart and bladder.
In their paper, the researchers wrote: ‘ATA displays the capability to repair injuries and restore normal erectile function of the ATA-damaged penile tissue in a pig model.
‘Our study demonstrates that ATA has great promise for penile injury repair.
The study has been published in the journal Matter.
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HOW DOES A PENIS FRACTURE?
A penile fracture occurs when the appendage is subject to a sharp, blunt force trauma, which can occur during vigorous intercourse or masturbation.
Since 1924, 1,600 cases have been recorded worldwide – roughly 16 instances per year, the Telegraph previously reported.
Researchers noted that in 50 per cent of cases, a gruesome cracking sound can be heard. Four in five male victims lost their erection.
Those who have already been traumatised from breaking their penis are often left with erectile dysfunction problems and a lifetime of painful sex.
Blood flows into corpora cavernosa that runs along the penis and making it hard during an erection.
The trick to stopping penile injuries is to thrust quite shallowly, according to sex expert Tracey Cox.
Holding your partner close to you using a grinding rather than thrusting motion will also reduce the risk, she told MailOnline.