A bionic pig penis has been created by scientists which could help treat erectile dysfunction in humans in the future.
A study on young male pigs found that an injured or ailing sexual organ can become, and remain, erect after being treated with an artificial sheath to ensure engorgement.
An estimated 50 per cent of men between the ages of 40 and 70 experience some form of erectile dysfunction, the researchers said, and about five per cent suffer from Peyronie’s disease.
Peyronie’s disease, commonly caused by injury during sex, involves damage to the fibrous sheath of penile tissue, known as the tunica albuginea, which maintains an erection.
“This is an area that has received little attention, yet the related need is huge,” said Dr Xuetao Shi, a study author from the South China University of Technology.
Penises have a tunica albuginea which ensures blood remains in the organ and prevents it draining out of the penis and back into the rest of the body. When this is weakened, by age or injury, the blood does not remain where desired and performance and endurance are reduced.
The research group created an artificial tunica albuginea (ATA) to mimic the function of a natural one by replicating the elastic properties.
Hydrogels can be natural or synthetic and are being used for a growing number of biomedical applications, including contact lenses and tissue engineering.
Patches made of new material fully restore erections
Patches made of the new material were able to fully restore penile function and erections, the scientists found in their paper, published in the journal Matter.
“The erection of the penis returned to normal after suturing the ATA at the injured part, and the long-term prognosis was satisfactory,” the authors write.
They add that the procedure achieved “excellent performance through structural bionic design” as it was capable of “rapid strain stiffening” and “high burst pressure.”
Dr Shi added: “The results one month after the procedure showed that the ATA group achieved good, though not perfect, repair results.”
The researchers said the Bama miniature pigs used in the study have a similar penile anatomy and size to that of human penises and the results show promise that people could one day be treated for erectile dysfunction.
“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,” Dr Shi said.
The researchers are also hoping to use their hydrogel to repair other injuries and bodily tissues, including the heart and bladder.