Will insecure men of the future cultivate new vat-grown penises in their spare-bedroom laboratories? Will they then transplant these obnoxious knobs onto their otherwise healthy bodies in DIY bathroom surgeries?
I posed these questions at the end of the recent Stuff to Blow Your Mind episode “Do-It-Yourself Organs” and realized I should probably follow up just a little. The podcast primarily dealt with the amazing science of synthetic organs (such as last week’s synthetic trachea transplant), but will we also grow the human penis in a laboratory as well?
Yes we will. And before we go any deeper into this, I should stress that comments on masculine insecurity and our propensity for scientific misuse aside, it’s a pretty serious issue. The ability to grow new penis tissue is vital to men who’ve suffered from penile cancer, traumatic injury, birth defects and some forms of erectile dysfunction.
We’ve actually been able to grow the body of the penis in the lab for years. But the penis as a whole is quite a complex bit of flesh to replicate. Functional erectile tissue requires some rather intricate cellular interactions and a working network of nerves to drive all the action. (Read HowStuffWorks’ “Anatomy of the Male Penis” for details)
Tissue Engineer Dr. Anthony Atala of Children’s Hospital Boston stands at the forefront of artificial tissue and organ growth technology, so it should come as no surprise to find him at the center of this issue as well. Back in 2003, his lab successfully used tissue from several rabbit members to create scaffolding to grow a functional, healthy bioengineered rabbit penis. In another experiment, Atala also showed that engineered tissue made of collagen can coax nerve regeneration in a damaged penis.
The take home from this is that, yes, we’ll eventually be able to extract a sample of a patient’s erectile tissue and multiply it in the lab for use in new tissue.
Today we can grow functional replacement penises for rabbits and successfully transplant them. Human transplants will come in time. By the way, here’s a quick rundown of our current method of addressing the condition commonly referred to as micropenis. I think you’ll find artificial tissue growth an excellent alternative to that.
Oh, and if you happen to be a male with insecurities about your penis size, remember that surgery is just one of many options — including therapy. I highly recommend you give the PDF “Non-invasive methods of penile lengthening: fact or fiction?” a read.
About the author: Robert Lamb is a senior writer and podcaster at HowStuffWorks.com, where he co-hosts Stuff to Blow Your Mind with Julie Douglas. He has a love for monsters, an aversion to slugs and a hankering for electronic music.