Scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, are creating lab-grown penises, and they could soon be available for testing.
The researchers are creating the penises "to help people with congenital abnormalities," as well as people who have sustained traumatic injuries or undergone aggressive cancer surgery, The Guardian reports. The scientists are currently "assessing engineered penises for safety, function, and durability," and they hope the FDA will approve the penises for human testing in the next five years. The institute's research is funded by the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine, as the organization hopes the lab penises could help injured soldiers.
Anthony Atala, director of the institute, told The Guardian that his team previously engineered rabbit penises in 2008. "The rabbit studies were very encouraging, 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," to gain approval, Atala said.
The scientists plan to grow the penises using the patient's own cells, because an organ transplant from another person could face rejection by the patient's immune system. As The Guardian explains it, "cells taken from the remainder of the patient's penis would be grown in culture for four to six weeks" before the operation. The scientists would then use the cells on a collagen scaffold of a donor penis. Since the engineered penises use the patient's cells, the process wouldn't work for sex reassignment surgery.
However, some scientists still have questions about the procedure's effectiveness. "My concern is that they might struggle to recreate a natural erection," Asif Muneer, a consultant urological surgeon and andrologist at University College Hospital in London, told The Guardian. "Erectile function is a coordinated neurophysiological process starting in the brain, so I wonder if they can reproduce that function or whether this is just an aesthetic improvement. That will be their challenge."