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Sep 12 2012

O brave new world that has such penises in’t

I am getting quite impressed with the progress being made in organ reconstruction. New techniques have allowed amazing improvements in bioengineering that allow whole complex organs to be grown in a dish and then surgically reimplanted — and much of this research is being driven by our military ventures, which provide a steady supply of scarred, damaged, and mutilated veterans who need new body parts. There I read that scientists are developing procedures to regrow penises…how could I not look up that paper? So I did, and now I have the current recipe for building new penises — or at least, corpora cavernosa — in a lab.

It’s got limitations. First, you have to start with an intact penis, preferably from a dead body. Then it has to be delicately decellularized, leaving behind a fragile, ghostly collagen matrix, the connective tissue ‘skeleton’ of the organ. This framework is completely acellular, with no remnants of the donor’s cells, and consisting of just the collagen matrix, so that it will not provoke an immune response.

Then smooth muscle and endothelial cells are harvested by biopsies from the prospective host. This is to be an autologous transplant, a regrown organ built from the host’s own cells, again so immune system rejection will not be an issue. These cells are seeded in multiple steps onto the collagen scaffold, where they proliferate and infiltrate the matrix and reassemble (you hope!) the fully functional organ.

Note the limitations, though: you have to start with a penis. There are relatively few of those to spare, although since histocompatibility matching isn’t an issue, it ought to be doable as part of an organ donor program — we’ll just grab the penis as well as the corneas and kidneys. This procedure does not regrow the entire penis, but just the spongy erectile tissue in the core; this is implanted into the sheath of skin of the normal penis. I know all you body modification fans are dreaming of the day you can have multiple penises, but this isn’t quite there yet, and sorry, I should hope injured people who need the procedure get priority over cosmetic uses.

But here’s the astonishing thing: it works. The procedure has only been tested in rabbits so far, but with amazing success. I know what you are saying. You are saying, “Really? Then show me the bunny penises, with erections.” And I will.

At the top left is an unaltered, unoperated rabbit penis; top right is the case we’re interested in, a rabbit with an implanted, bioengineered penis (say, isn’t it a little larger than the unaltered penis?). At the bottom are negative controls, penises with just the unseeded collagen matrix implanted and with nothing at all to replace the surgical deletion.


Cavernosometry and cavernosography. (A) Cavernosometry shows that all rabbits implanted with the bioengineered corpora after complete pendular penile corporal excision had sufficient intracorporal pressure (ICP) to attain erection (n = 12). The levels of ICP were comparable to native corpora (n = 12). (B) Cavernosography shows a homogenous appearance of corpora in the bioengineered group (n = 12), similar to the native corpora (n = 16), numerous filling defects in the unseeded control group (n = 12), and major filling gaps in the negative control group (n = 3).

The researchers have done experiments in rabbits in which they compare a positive control group (no removal of the corpora) to a negative control group (rabbits with their penises hollowed out and the corpora removed — sad bunnies) to an experimental group (rabbits with their penises surgically cored out, and then replaced with bioengineered neocorpora), and look what happened.

The experimental and control animals were each placed with a female rabbit and mating activities were assessed at 1, 3, and 6 months after implantation. All rabbits with bioengineered neocorpora attempted copulation within 1 min of introduction to their female partners, and this occurred as early as 1 month after implantation. Most control rabbits did not attempt copulation after introduction to their female partners.

The rabbits were ready and eager to try out their new penises! Yay science!

The intravaginal ejaculation rate was determined using vaginal swabs to detect the presence of sperm after copulation and/or impregnation. In the experimental group, vaginal swabs contained sperm in eight of 12 instances, and four of the 12 females were impregnated, resulting in an intravaginal ejaculation rate of 83% (10/12). In the control group without cell seeding, all 12 vaginal swabs were negative.

And it wasn’t all just for fun, those penises worked, they successfully inseminated the females, and, typical bunnies, a third of the females were impregnated! Yay science again!

A difference between experimental and control group without cells in the intravaginal ejaculation rates of 75% was noted, with a 95% confidence interval of 36% to 89%. For the negative control group (excision only), all vaginal swabs were negative, and none of the females were impregnated (0%).

I feel sad for those bunnies with their flaccid, hollowed out penises, but I guess that is the expected result — it would have been far more surprising if the negative controls had inseminated their partners.

The bottom line is that we need more stem cell research and more bioengineering. There are wonders to be accomplished! And don’t let religious nonsense interfere with this kind of work.

Although, to be fair, both Islam and Christianity would be perfectly fine with reconstruction of the holy penis — it’s only when it steps into the task of reconstructing scarred and damaged vulvas that it treads over the line into abomination.


Chen KL, Eberli D, Yoo JJ, Atala A (2010) Bioengineered corporal tissue for structural and functional restoration of the penis. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 107(8):3346-50.

55 comments

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  1. 1
    Argle Bargle

    As usual, Jesus and Mo shows the hypocrisy of the theist position.

  2. 2
    Cuttlefish

    This is the same technology as the trachea in a jar, no? http://freethoughtblogs.com/cuttlefish/2008/11/19/throat-in-a-jar/ And the heart in a jar? (won’t link, cos two links sends me to moderation).

    About time they got to the more important organs.

  3. 3
    borax

    I’m happy with my penis but may be in the market for a new liver. Damn you, tasty tasty beer.

  4. 4
    harbo

    Odd really, on a day when followers of the prince of peace, made a film, that followers of the religion of peace, used as an excuse to trash US embassies and kill people. FMLBD

    Ficus should rule!

  5. 5
    Ace of Sevens

    I’m wondering if this could be used for ftm trans surgery. The current penis-making techniques are less than ideal.

  6. 6
    baal

    I hope these tissue reconstruction experiments can be leveraged to get the xtian fundamentalists to back off on the anti-stem cell laws they are so fond of.

  7. 7
    Louis

    …it ought to be doable as part of an organ donor program — we’ll just grab the penis as well as the corneas and kidneys.

    I can see the Donor Card blurb now:

    “I want/do not want* my schlong to go on knobbing things in the event of my death.”

    I am sorry, but I want this SO BAD. Not for me, I just need to live in a world where this is a real thing.

    Louis

    *Delete as applicable

  8. 8
    PZ Myers

    Just think…if there were a chain of donors, Louis’s schlong could be immortal.

  9. 9
    jamessweet

    I suppose if I got my dick blown off in a war I might have a different opinion on the matter, but I have to say, the idea of a ghost penis made of collagen harvested from a dead donor body being implanted into mine, that just gives me the willies (pun intended). No rational reason behind it, and I admit I wouldn’t feel that way about a donor liver, etc… I guess when it comes to the member, I still have some rather essentialist impulses. I may not believe in mind/body dualism, but I think I still may have a touch of cock/body dualism in me.

  10. 10
    dianne

    Cool! Pretty soon we’ll be able to do what God apparently is not: regrow amputated organs. Hearty mad scientist laugh all around!

  11. 11
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    But whattabout teh menz??
    … Oh wait…

    Seriously cool stuff. Yay science, indeed!

  12. 12
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    I’m wondering if this could be used for ftm trans surgery.

    My thought too.

    I have no idea about current procedures, but if this would be an improvement then great.

  13. 13
    Louis

    PZ,

    That is, quite literally, one of the most horrific ideas I have ever encountered!

    Also, generations of sexual partners will be bitterly disappointed. It’s better the damned thing dies with me. Some might say before!

    ;-)

    Louis

  14. 14
    Gregory in Seattle

    Pity that all the Holy Foreskins from the Middle Ages have been lost: we could reconstruct the Penis of the Lord.

  15. 15
    arakasi

    I think that we have enough evidence that god cannot/will not heal amputees. So…

    Healing amputations:
    science: 1
    god: 0

    And who else had the sudden image of a guy waking up from surgery, looking down, and saying, “I was hoping for something a little bigger”

  16. 16
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    “Really? Then show me the bunny penises, with erections.” And I will.

    Finally, some biology I can grasp.

  17. 17
    Keith Peterson

    If you only need the collagen matrix so cells have something to grow on, why not skip the whole transplant part and make collagen penis matrices in the lab?

    Just think, a tailor made penis industry. Though, to be honest, I think most guys would just go for the XXL version with eye rolls from the ladies…

  18. 18
    Lonicera

    I know all you body modification fans are dreaming of the day you can have multiple penises.

    Oh dear, no thank you. I’m incompetent enough with one. Twice the number is twice the failure.

    I recall reading about the scaffolding approach several years ago in, or in something akin to, Nature. As somebody with sod all scientific qualifications, I was incredibly hopeful it would be useful in saving lives or restoring a sense of comfort. I’m glad to see it’s increasingly the case.

  19. 19
    manocheese

    Will there be a movie about a man who gets transplanted with a penis from a serial killer? Now that I think about it, I might have seen that movie already…

  20. 20
    Ace of Sevens

    If we have to use harvested ones, how do they determine who gets which penis? There will be unequal demands for different matrices.

  21. 21
    harvardmba

    As expected, we see how “scientists” and their fanboys feel about torturing animals, in this case rabbits. Not only is there no mention of their suffering (and why should there be, just some dumb rabbits), there’s plenty of frat boy joking about bunny erections – not the least from the abysmal idiot p-brain myers. No surprise there, he’s made his feelings known on animal rights in the past, and those that would defend them.

  22. 22
    Louis

    Keith Peterson,

    Just think, a tailor made penis industry. Though, to be honest, I think most guys would just go for the XXL version with eye rolls from the ladies…

    I have always thought a detachable penis/genitals set was the way to go. The Sporting (small, tucked away, almost invulnerable), The Peacock (enormous, used for displaying at urinals/showers), The Traveller (comes with pre-attached bag for long journeys), The Adventurer (candiru, and urban legend, proof), The Gibbon (prehensile for “brachiating” and enjoying “tree play”) and of course, a selection of sizes, shapes and mechanical attachments for the ladies/gentepersons of one’s acquaintance.

    Louis

  23. 23
    Louis

    Manocheese,

    I saw “Body Parts” last night, arm transplant, bad movie, bad, bad movie. There has to be a porn adaptation somewhere, and no, I am not googling it.

    Louis

  24. 24
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    So, if not for animal experimentation, how are we supposed to advance medical science?

    *three post rule, three post rule, three post rule*

  25. 25
    Keith Peterson

    Louis, that does sound nice, but at what cost will this be to us as a society.

    AT WHAT COST!?

    I ask, because I’m interested in this idea.

  26. 26
    Louis

    Keith Peterson,

    Well obviously any funding aimed at anything that might benefit women or poor people should be immediately diverted into this. Also, space missions, no. We must first conquer the adaptable multi peen before we conquer space.

    I am petitioning my MP as we speak.

    Louis

  27. 27
    Keith Peterson

    harvardmba, I’m skeptical that the lost of erections in a male rabbit cause it suffering.

    You’re free, however, to prove me wrong.

  28. 28
    Keith Peterson

    But Louis, wouldn’t this technology inadvertently be beneficial to women in the round about way of improving their sex lives?

  29. 29
    otrame

    Yeah, harvardmba (jeez, what a nym) you’re right. Fuck all those 18-25 year-old soldiers.

    You have investigated which modern medicines and techniques used animals in the experimental stage and of course, you will NEVER make use of them, no matter how desparately you need them, because you are neither an evil animal-torturer nor a hypocrite.

    Right?

  30. 30
    Louis

    Keith Peterson,

    An unfortunate side effect.

    Louis

  31. 31
    pedwardsch3

    Don’t like animal experimentation, harvardmba? Then don’t take medication, don’t undergo surgery, don’t undergo physical therapy, or any other sort of medical treatment. Instead, have fun while you’re applying leeches to different parts of your body, hoping that the removal of blood will balance your humors.

    Just make sure that you don’t kill any of the leeches while you’re removing them from yourself.

  32. 32
    Ace of Sevens

    Here’s a thought: Since the matrices are decelluralized, there’s no need to even match species, right? You could stick a horse amtrix on a human as easily as you could a human matrix.

  33. 33
    Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    Here’s a thought: Since the matrices are decelluralized, there’s no need to even match species, right? You could stick a horse amtrix on a human as easily as you could a human matrix.

    You could even get one of these installed!

    Think of the convenience of never having to put down your cane to use your hands, or trying to remember where you put it!

  34. 34
    didgen

    @harvardmba
    nearly all medical advances come at the cost of experimentation, sad fact. As there is no alternative, should we simply stop making any effort to help people in need? As for the jokes, it is human nature.

  35. 35
    Forbidden Snowflake

    Ace of Sevens, I think that since there is no new skin grown for the occasion, there needs to be an at least approximate size match. I was also wondering regarding the potential FTM-surgery application. If penis-skin can be turned into vagina-skin, can the same thing be done in reverse?

  36. 36
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Louis:

    I’d rather go retractable. For both dangly bits. You’d have a nice side-effect of free male birth control.

  37. 37
    opposablethumbs

    Louis

    I have always thought a detachable penis/genitals set was the way to go.

    great [or other appropriate adjective] minds think alike

  38. 38
    NitricAcid

    I had to read this twice, because I lost it the first time at “corpora cavernosa”. I couldn’t shake the mental image of Snape shouting it as he waved his wand.

    And then I realized that it wasn’t a wand.

  39. 39
    ChasCPeterson

    harvardmba won’t be back to reap the spoils of posting thrice. Probably a very very busy person, what with that Masters degree. In busy-ness. From *sniff* Hahvahd.
    Nope, a quick ‘fuck you, bunnies’ rights!’ and then back to maximizing shareholder profits.

  40. 40
    a3kr0n

    Someone goes by “harvardmba” around here?
    Why?
    If you are one you’re a dick for saying so, and if you aren’t you’re dick for lying.

  41. 41
    Richard Smith

    So, did the bunnies with the matrix find out how deep the rabbit-hole goes?

  42. 42
    carlie

    I lost it the first time at “corpora cavernosa”. I couldn’t shake the mental image of Snape shouting it as he waved his wand.

    And then I realized that it wasn’t a wand.

    *dies laughing*

    *imagine fanfic explosion*

  43. 43
    HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr

    I was thinking the same, carlie.

    Seriously, though, this is cool.

  44. 44
    David Marjanović

    Just think…if there were a chain of donors, Louis’s schlong could be immortal.

    …Not, however, any of the cells in it. :-]

    But whattabout teh menz??
    … Oh wait…

    Thread won. :-)

    And who else had the sudden image of a guy waking up from surgery, looking down, and saying, “I was hoping for something a little bigger”

    I wonder where the anatomical difference between growers and showers lies. (See also comment 20.)

    As expected, we see how “scientists” and their fanboys feel about torturing animals, in this case rabbits.

    Where is the torture?

    …Wait. Did you seriously believe there’s no anesthesia involved??? *blink*

    Here’s a thought: Since the matrices are decelluralized, there’s no need to even match species, right?

    Collagen does differ between… well, I don’t know if it differs between humans and horses, but it probably does.

  45. 45
    octopod

    Collagen does differ between mammal species, but I think nonhuman collagen is still used in reconstructive plastic surgery usw. on humans, and is not rejected particularly often. (Bovine collagen, I want to say, but I’m not sure.) This paper talks about dependency of immune reactions on the donor and recipient species.

  46. 46
    dornierpfeil

    A TRUE BELIEVER IN THE MYSTERY OF GOD KNOWS THAT PROPER TALK ABOUT GOD IS ALWAYS HUMBLE, ALWAYS TENTATIVE

    AS ST AUGUSTINE SAID, IF YOU UNDERSTAND IT, IT IS NOT GOD

    So quantum mechanics is god?

  47. 47
    Ichthyic

    great [or other appropriate adjective] minds think alike


    indeed they do.

  48. 48
    Ichthyic

    As expected, we see how “scientists” and their fanboys feel about torturing animals, in this case rabbits. Not only is there no mention of their suffering (and why should there be, just some dumb rabbits), there’s plenty of frat boy joking about bunny erections – not the least from the abysmal idiot p-brain myers. No surprise there, he’s made his feelings known on animal rights in the past, and those that would defend them.

    paging SC…

  49. 49
    escuerd

    dornierpfeil:

    So quantum mechanics is god?

    That joke’s a little too close to what lots of quantum woomeisters seem to think.

  50. 50
    JohnnieCanuck

    Louis @22

    You are aware of Wanda Sykes and her detachable pussy routine, right?

    It’s on YouTube. Google will get you there.

  51. 51
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    NitricAcid:

    And then I realized that it wasn’t a wand.

    You’re just one letter off.

  52. 52
    autumn

    Just a thought, but couldn’t they implant the collagen matrix under a flap of the subject’s skin, and grow the corpora with a ready-made skin covering, a-la some nose reconstructions done by growing out a flap of forehead skin?

  53. 53
    dornierpfeil

    That joke’s a little too close to what lots of quantum woomeisters seem to think.

    Indeed. I completely missed that angle, which is odd considering how many of the woomeisters I deal with on a personal basis. But it doesn’t invalidate the joke nor validate your auditing of me for making it.

  54. 54
    Brad

    Ron Jeremy’s estate will be richer than previously projected.

  55. 55
    David Marjanović

    You’re just one letter off.

    X-) Vile human being.

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