Scientists developed synthetic tissue that restores erectile function in pigs

The findings are promising for treating penile injuries in humans.
Mert Erdemir

Scientists from the South China University of Technology designed a new synthetic tissue that can repair injuries and restore erectile function in pigs. The findings are promising for repairing penile injuries in humans through the use of artificial tunica albuginea (ATA), which imitates a fibrous sheath of tissue crucial to maintain an erection.

“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,” Xuetao Shi, a researcher at the South China University of Technology in Guangzhou, China, and an author of the study, said in a press release.

“The greatest advantage of the ATA we report is that it achieves tissue-like functions by mimicking the microstructure of natural tissues,” he added. “This design approach is not limited to the biomimetic design of tunica albuginea tissues but can be extended to many other load-bearing tissues.”

Focusing on previously-neglected problems related to male reproductive health

Shi and his team shifted their focus to producing biomaterials to address problems related to male reproductive health, such as erectile dysfunction, infertility, and Peyronie's disease, which is a condition of having an abnormal curve of the penis.

Approximately half of the men between the ages of 40 and 70 have some sort of erectile dysfunction, and an estimated five percent have Peyronie's disease, in which scar tissue grows in the tunica albuginea, causing pain and a variety of other symptoms.

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“We noticed that this is an area that has received little attention, yet the related need is huge,” stated Shi.

To address this previously-neglected issue, the research team developed an ATA based on polyvinyl alcohol with a curled fiber structure similar to that of the natural tissue and achieved a synthetic material with biomechanical properties that mimic those of tunica albuginea.

Next, they conducted laboratory experiments to assess the toxicity and blood compatibility of the artificial tissue, as it is intended to remain in the body for a long period of time. They also aimed to ensure that it should not be hazardous to other tissues.

When they tested the ATA in pigs with injured tunica albuginea, the team found that patches made from the artificial tissue restored erectile function, which suggests that the patch successfully replaced natural tissues.

After one month, the researchers analyzed the effects of the ATA patches, discovering that while the artificial tissue did not restore the microstructure of surrounding natural tissue, it developed fibrosis comparable to that of normal tissue and achieved a normal erection after the penis was injected with saline.

Good, but not perfect, results

“The results one month after the procedure showed that the ATA group achieved good, though not perfect, repair results,” said Shi.

Shi remarked that in most penile injuries, the tunica albuginea is not the sole tissue affected. Surrounding nerves and the corpus cavernosum, the spongy tissue that runs through the shaft of the penis, are frequently injured as well, making the healing process even more complicated.

“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 further added.

The study was published in the journal Matter.

Study abstract: