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Stem Cells Are Now Being Tested to Treat Impotence

But guess where the injection goes.

Susan  Rinkunas

Susan Rinkunas

Ben Richardson / Getty Images

Danish researchers say that stem cell injections enabled impotent men to get erections again and have sex—a first for stem cell therapy. But the findings are extremely preliminary, so keep your pants on.

Martha Haahr of Odense University Hospital in Odense, Denmark, shared the results of the clinical trial at the European Association of Urology's annual conference over the weekend. For this phase I trial (which means it was being done to demonstrate safety), they enrolled 21 men who lost the ability to have an erection following surgery to treat prostate cancer and gave them a single injection of their own stem cells into the corpus cavernosum area of the penis—the spongy tissue that gets engorged with blood during an erection. This is done under general anesthesia, which seems a little excessive but, hey, that shit's gotta hurt.

Prior to the penis jabs, the researchers used liposuction to remove some of the men's abdominal fat and separated out semi-mature mesenchymal stem cells, which are the clean-slate cells that become muscle, fat, and bone tissue. The procedure did not help any of the seven men in the group who had become incontinent after surgery (the researchers speculated that perhaps they had more extensive nerve damage than the other men). But of the 14 who were still continent, eight were able to have sex within six months and their sexual function was intact one year after the injection.

Now that safety has been established, the researchers next want to do a phase II trial with a larger group of men, some of whom would get assigned to a placebo group. It's certainly not clear if this technique could work in men who have ED for other reasons (like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety, or depression). The results of the trial haven't been published in a peer-reviewed journal, but Haahr and team did publish preliminary results last year in EBioMedicine.

"What we have done establishes that this technique can lead to men recovering a spontaneous erection—in other words, without the use of other medicines, injections, or implants," Haahr said in a release.

But this doesn't mean that men with ED should go to stem cell clinics for a shot in the junk. There's no law against removing a person's stem cells and infusing them somewhere else in the body, but the US Food and Drug Administration has approved only one stem cell treatment. That means stem cell clinics are unregulated and treatments could, at the very least, be a waste of money but at worst could hurt you: Just ask the three women who went blind after getting stem cell treatments for macular degeneration in Florida.

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