The possibility of a complete cure for our condition has progressed from the realm of science fiction to a real probability, but human treatment in this field is still about a decade away. The field of Regenerative Medicine shows the most promise and there are many exciting experiments being conducted. The most promising and the one that is directly related to penile regeneration was conducted on rabbits at the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Previously, reconstructing damaged or diseased penile erectile tissue has been a challenge to repair because of the tissue’s unique structure and complex function. Prior to the Wake Forest’s experiment, no tissue replacement therapy or treatment had been available that would allow for the return of completely normal penile functioning. As was reported in the online edition (Nov 9-13, 2009) of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers first harvested smooth muscle tissue and other cells from laboratory rabbit tissue. These cells were allowed to multiply in the laboratory and then injected into a three-dimensional scaffold that provided support while the cells developed. As early as one month after implanting the material in the penis, organized tissue with vessel structures began to appear. Testing showed that the new tissue was functioning in a completely normal manner. Vessel pressure within the erect tissue, response to chemical changes and vein draining of blood after an erection were all normal. Their ejaculate contained sperm in 2/3 of the cases and 25% of the females with whom these rabbits mated with become pregnant. The tissue engineered in this experiment is known as the corpora cavernosa of the penis (Note: The same tissue affected by PD). The lead researcher expressed hope that men with a number of conditions, i.e., traumatic injury of the penis, congenital defects, etc. would ultimately benefit from this treatment. Of course, testing on humans is a number of years away. (I gave a donation to this medical facility with a note about my PD and suggested their approach appeared to be a promising treatment for my condition. You may want to do the same).
As noted in the above article, a “scaffold” was required in order for the material to bond, grow and organize. This scaffold is a first generation approach to this crucial step in the regenerative process. However, this process may take a giant leap forward with the arrival of the first commercial 3D bio-printer for the manufacturing of human tissue and organs. This new machine, which costs about $200,000, has been developed by Organovo, a San Diego company that specializes in regenerative medicine. This machine works in a similar fashion to ink-jet printers, but takes it a step further than the previously mentioned scaffold approach by depositing droplets of polymer with the cellular material which then fuses together to form a structure. This eliminates the need to construct a scaffold. To start with, only simple tissues, such as skin, muscle and short stretches of blood vessels will be made. The first production models of these machines will soon be delivered to research labs. This ink-jet approach is apparently becoming more common and being used for a number of impairments. MSNBC reported a rigged device inspired by common ink-jet printers has been used in experiments on mice. Skin cells were sprayed directly onto burn victims via the ink-jet printer method, quickly healing their wounds as an alternative to skin grafts. Another company, Invetech, has developed a laser based calibration system to ensure that the print heads from machines such as the 3D bio-printer, deposit their material accurately along with a computer-graphics system which allows cross-sections of tissues and body parts to be designed.
In a related development, the American Armed Forces Press Service has reported on their “translational research activities.” Which is defined as putting research into practice. They are also employing the “scaffolding” method to get tissue to grow in order to replace a missing or damaged body part. One area targeted for research is to develop an effective approach to eliminate scarring as during wound healing process. (Of course, this is the process by which PD develops). The military has a five year, $250 million budget for this research.