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Scientists are fixing pig erections with a new kind of penis implant

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Photo: Gorb Andrii (Shutterstock)

Scientists in China think they may have found a better way to fix an injured penis. In research published this week, a synthetic material developed by the team was able to restore normal erectile function when implanted in pigs. The material may offer significant advantages over existing methods, and it may even have applications for other types of tissue repair.

In a penis, the tunica albuginea is the protective, elastic layer surrounding the erectile tissue that pumps blood to the organ. It plays a vital role in maintaining an erection, and is often one of the parts of the penis damaged by certain conditions or injuries, including a broken penis. And while there are surgical treatments that can repair a damaged urethra, current procedures tend to be less effective at restoring a functional tunica albuginea. Patches attached to the tunica albuginea, made up largely of tissue from elsewhere in the body, can be rejected by the immune system, for example. And these patches just don’t look like natural tunica albuginea on a microscopic level, which means they usually can’t restore normal erectile function.

Scientists at the South China University of Technology decided to try a different approach to repairing these kinds of injuries. They aimed to create a safe, synthetic material with physical properties similar to tunica tunica albuginea, which can bend and twist when the penis is not erect, and then easily become rigid during an erection. The team’s artificial tunic tunica albuginea is made up of hydrogels arranged in a stacked fiber structure, similar to the natural version.

A diagram showing how the artificial material can mimic the process involved in a natural erection.

A diagram showing how the artificial material can mimic the process involved in a natural erection.
Graphic: Matter/Chai et al

“Our research is based on a simple scientific hypothesis: by simulating the microstructure of natural tissues, we can obtain artificial materials with tissue-like properties,” lead author Xuetao Shi told Gizmodo in an email. .

In animal experiments involving pigs with a damaged tunica albuginea, the material appeared to allow their erect penises to expand as rigidly as in normal pigs (to make the penis erect on demand, an injection of saline was used). And although the material didn’t repair the tissues around it, it didn’t seem to cause any additional scarring a month later.

Our study shows that [the artificial tunica albuginea] shows great promise for penile injury repair,” the authors wrote in their paper, published Wednesday in Matter.

As encouraging as these results are, this technology is still in its infancy, notes Shi. There is still a lot of research to be done before it can be widely tested in humans. Among other things, they need to confirm the material’s long-term efficacy and safety, meaning it could survive unobtrusively in the body for at least three to five years. There are also likely improvements that could be made to the way it is implanted on the penis (currently the team uses a simple suture). And even if this material works as expected, it’s only one piece of the puzzle, because injured penises are often damaged in multiple ways, not just along the tunica albuginea.

The team is working on refining their technology and on better ways to repair the penis as a whole, including treating permanent nerve damage. And the team’s basic approach could potentially be used for other tissues, such as those found in the bladder and heart, although the material would likely require adjustments depending on the tissue it’s supposed to repair. noted Shi.

“In the future, we hope to systematically study the male reproductive system with the aim of performing functional simulation and in vitro reconstruction at the level of penile organs and tests,” Shi said. “On the other hand, we are also working with clinicians to enable early clinical application of artificial AT, which we believe is very likely to happen.”

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