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30 January 2006
Penile Tissue Engineering
by Paul A.

For the last two weeks Iíve discussed what your options are if you become separated from your penis. To summarize briefly: If your dick is to be separated from your body it would be best if said dick remains intact and viable. The alternative is to have a living roll of flesh in the general shape of a dick hanging from your crotch. As far as looks go... Boffo! But if youíre looking for a bigger return from a new dick than simply having a bulge in your pants and peeing straight... it ainít ideal.

Ok, letís take a quick trip to the future and see what sort of medical technology might be just around the corner. Due to a freak malfunction of your hydrogen fuel cell jock strap, your wang is lingering in the fifth dimension (although thereís a chance it could be in the sixth) and even if you could retrieve it, it would be inside out. Itís 2025, youíve been rendered dickless, whatís to be done? Well, if current medical technology keeps racing ahead, thereís a reasonable chance that by the year 2025, your doctor might be able to grow you a new one. Yup. Thatís what I said. Not a piece of flesh from your arm fashioned into an ad hoc appendage, but a bona fide brand new schlong! Now if that sounds like science fiction, thatís because it is. This is distant horizon science. But even distant horizons have a way of arriving sooner than you think, and in the last few years itís been pedal-to-the-metal for the knob growing pioneers.

The science underlying such a feat is known as tissue engineering (TE). Although first conceived by Y.C. Fung back in 1983, TE has been developed in earnest in the last decade by doctors from Childrenís Hospital Boston, in particular, Robert Langer and Joseph P. Vacanti. You may remember them from a few years back as the guys behind such ďgee whiz!Ē science as growing a human ear on the back of a mouse.

TE can take many forms, but for our purposes it involves the creation of a biodegradable 3D lattice (a framework) into which cultured cells (from the recipient's own tissue) are ďseeded.Ē The whole apparatus is then bathed in a nutritive media and the seeded cells multiply along the scaffold structure and into the spaces between. Eventually the scaffold itself breaks down and what remains is flesh (your own flesh!) where none existed before. Itís Six Million Dollar Man science and we really do have the technology... well... almost. Scientists have become very adept at growing individual tissues and even organs made from single tissues. In 1999, Dr. Anthony Atala, from Childrenís Hospital Boston, grew artificial bladders for six beagles. Why six? Why beagles? It wasnít disclosed, so donít ask me. However, creating complex large scale organs, like a human penis, is currently out of scienceís reach. But it looks like not for longÖ

In 2002, the same Dr Atala and his team succeeding in growing a rabbit penis in the laboratory. At least thatís what was widely reported in the media (the modern press is sooo gullible). What they actually did was grow the various tissues that comprise the corpora cavernosa (the erectile tissue) of several rabbits (Why rabbits? It never said, but Iím guessing that rabbits are probably the largest mammal we can still ethically screw with). The boffins then removed the rabbitsí own erectile tissue and replaced it with the brand new stuff. And after a period of recovery, the rabbits were doing it like, wellÖ, rabbits.

More difficult of course is the growing of a whole new penis, nerves and all. No one thus far has been able to grow a complex organ of any kind, and the penis is especially difficult because there as so many different internal structures. There are the aforementioned corpora cavernosum. Then there is the tunica albuginea which bands the corpora cavernosum together. Then thereís the lacunar space, otherwise known as the space of Smith (at least thatís what Smith Ė whoever he is - calls it) which surrounds the tunica albuginea. Then thereís the corpus spongiosum located on the underside of the penis. And letís not forget the urethra, the glans (head), the skin, the mucosa, and believe it or not, something called the meatus. On top of all that youíve got to make sure the component parts are vascularized Ė that means blood vessels and lots of them. And of course thereís no point growing a great hunk of living beef-stick if there are no nerves to make it all worthwhile.

If all of this sounds daunting, it is. But scientists are still confident that we can roll out functioning penises sometime within the next decade or so. Now I know, I know, scientists are a notoriously hubristic bunch and theyíve made promises before that havenít exactly panned out (Iím still waiting for my personal rocket pack). But there is reason to think that penis production might soon be possible. And one of the most promising technologies to help achieve this is, believe it or not, inkjet printing.

As youíre probably aware, inkjet printers work by ejecting extremely small ink drops onto paper. The same technology has also been used to make 3D prototypes by having the inkjets deposit a layer of plastic with each pass. Scientists from Japan have recently (hot off the presses, baby) succeeded in using biocompatible inkjet heads to seed living cells, at micrometer resolution, in arrangements similar to biological tissues. The technology is obviously still very immature but ultimately this technique may allow technicians to, cell by cell, layer by layer, print you up a whole new dick with blood vessels, nerve channels, meatus, spaces of Smith and... well... the works! And yes, presumably if you slipped the technician a few bucks he might make it a couple of sizes bigger.

So there is hope. But before you start thinking of trading up from a medium to XXL, remember this technology is still in its infancy. There wonít be any big dick factory opening up anytime soon. For the time being, take care of the one youíve already got, treasure it, and in the best case scenario, itíll be the only one youíll ever need.

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