Fri
Jul 15 2011 2:27pm

Penis of Tomorrow: Will We Grow Artificial Penises?

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 the recent 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.

So there you have it! Let me know how I got it wrong! You can find the Stuff to Blow Your Mind podcast on iTunes, Zune and the RSS feed. And don’t forget the free HowStuffWorks App!

 

Imaged Credit: Nick Kocharhook/Creative Commons

Original Published at HSW: Penis of Tomorrow: Will We Grow Artificial Penises?


Robert Lamb is a senior staff writer at HowStuffWorks.com and co-host of the Stuff to Blow Your Mind podcast and blog. He is also a regular contributor to Discovery News. Follow him on Twitter @blowthemind.

24 comments
Liza .
1. aedifica
Because it is totally all about the penis. *eyeroll*
Jexral
2. Jexral
@1: I must admit, it seems, from your comment, that you did not read the article at all. *eyeroll*

I can see this having some great uses beyond cosmetic insecurities, as was pointed out in the article.
Liza .
3. aedifica
Jexral @ 2: No, I did in fact read the article, and I found it striking that all of this technology and medical knowledge is being described in terms of its ability to produce penises.
Ethan Glasser-Camp
4. glasserc
I assure you that Tor.com readers are enthusiastic about biology in all its many forms.

Ethan
Jexral
5. Bak
@3:

Would you be as dismissive if this was some other body part? Why
shouldn't technology and medical knowledge be used to produce penises?

In addition to the things pointed out in the article, I can see this
having very wonderful implications for trans men. Body dysphoria is a
very real (and painful) thing. Why not use science and technology to
help people?
Ian Johnson
6. IanPJohnson
@5: If we can grow penises for trans men, what about testicles? I'm sure there are some trans men who want to have biological children. And ovaries, too, for trans women. It's the future– anything can happen!

Yes, I bet there are people who want to use this technology to make fourteen-inch monsters, but I think that there can definitely be other uses for this.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
7. tnh
I just want to point out that "grow a penis" is an anagram of "Spiro Agnew."

Adifica, consider the benefits if it ceased to be an issue.

A general comment:

A while back, Randall Munroe (of XKCD fame) came up with a truly inventive automated moderation tool. It doesn't attempt to parse language, or compile statistically massive samples of good and bad comments. It just prevents any sentence from being posted more than once.

That is: if something has already been said, you can't say it again the same way. You can say something very similar, but there must be differentiation; i.e., you have to switch off the autopilot before you start typing.

The internet would be a better place if we'd all strive to do that on a macro level.
Pseu Donym
8. Scotoma
As I grow older I realize the stuff I want to have replacements for the most are eyes and teeth (there was a recent article about Japanese scientists who managed to regrow a fully functionally mice teeth). On the other hand, if we get more knowledge about regrowing humans body parts as a side-effect in the quest for bigger penises, I see no ill there. It's like using spammers to do good.
Marcus W
9. toryx
Scotoma @ 8: Man, I want to be able to replace my teeth. I've been dreaming of that for years. I'd also like to be able to regrow the components of my ear with the hope that I'd actually be able to hear.

If they can replace the penis then surely they'd be able to move on to the other stuff as well.
Jexral
10. liontime
Haven't we been growing artificial penises with viagara for a long time now?
Heidi Byrd
11. sweetlilflower
There's a great NOVA episode that discusses growing artificial organs. I'm sure it would be easy to search for. Talked about hearts, lungs, kidneys, all kinds of organs.
Noneo Yourbusiness
12. Longtimefan
@ aedifica,

It is an article about the complexity of a biological technology. The penis is not a terrible or boring or unneccesary part of a man's anatomy.

The eyeroll was demeaning and insensitive. Something I generally do not see in the comments of the articles on this site.

Most certainly not the kind of comment I have seen in the comments on the articles that are positive in their attitudes towards women.

Be happy for people when they are successful. It makes you look better.
Liza .
13. aedifica
Longtimefan @ 12: Please think some more about what my problem with the article might have been. Hint: I'm a heterosexual woman, so it's not that I object to penises in the right context or think that this technology shouldn't exist.
M F
14. Madeline
A. Aedifica has a point. Of all the things to regrow, it's a sign that men are considered infantile that penises are the lure to think about organ rebuilding. Just to hit it from one angle.

B. Huge benefit for FtM people. And I'd be a fan of a Bujold/Banks future where gender-switching was trivial.
Noneo Yourbusiness
15. Longtimefan
aedifica @ 13: Since you made this comment I hope you will forgive me if I assume this is part of your "problem with the article".

"I found it striking that all of this technology and medical knowledge
is being described in terms of its ability to produce penises."

I will acknoledge that this website is a bit young to have addressed the techonogical advancements in breast reconstruction surgery but if they had posted an article about science as it only related to how it would help women would you have been concerned about someone posting a dissmissive comment?

I am not saying you have to like penises I am just asking that any person reconsider disparaging something that a person has through no fault of their own. :)

@ 14 Madeline
When one considers all the things to regrow the penis is one of the few that has to consistently change size and flexibility to be considered a properly working organ. That is much more complicated than ears and noses and other very great advancements in biological sciences.

I am a man and I have been aware of other advancements in organ and tissue rebuidling before this article.

It is a sign that the reader who believes men are infantile would see this article as a lure to men to gain an interest in organ rebuilding.

There are always individuals who are only interested in certain topics when it relates to them and will not care about the topic otherwise.

As an individual who is a man I would like to ask that some consideration be applied when anyone is making a disparaging blanket statement about men, their anatomy, their attitudes or their abilities when those comments may be better suited to individualized experiences and motivations.

I would be just as concerned if someone was to make a disparaging remark about women in a trivializing way.

I believe that if men and women want to live in a society where they are respected for their intelligence and ablilities then I hope people chose not to slight a whole gender either aggressivly or passivly.
Jexral
16. Izeinwinter
The ability to engineer functional erectile tissue and the erotic nerve system associated with it has much greater application for women than for men - This is the science needed to undo female circumcision - which is a procedure which is nessesary in rather a heck of a lot more cases than the number of men who have had their genitals maimed in accidents. So.. Good research path, but why the heck are they starting with men?
Ashley Fox
18. A Fox
Admitadly, whilst seemingly insenstive, I understand the eyeroll. This article (Tor) seems to have a heavy emphasis on penis size. Yes it mentions therapy, which IMO is a much more valid route. A man should not be defined by the size of his penis, just as a woman should not by the size of her breats!

It seems that of all the possibilities of uses for this technology this would be very low down on a list of priorities. Whilst sex is great, a lack of sex is not life threatening. However I do see the value of this research, not only of growing various organs, but of the afore mentioned regeneration of nerve tissue. This could be very useful for a burns victem. I do not have figures but I imagine that the percentage of people this tech could be useful to for penis probs in ratio to all the other possibilities is very small. And I do find it reflective of a patriarchal society. And Frued accused women of penis envy ;)

For me, I also finds this raise questionable morality when it comes to fertility itself. Re enabling procreation, and the comments of transgressive sexuality. The world we live in is already overpopulated, and we have a great many children without families, in the care system. I believe far too much weight is put on finding new technologies that enable individual procreation rather than actually caring, and loving, the children already in existance. (Note that I do not deny the right to parenthood based on sexualty, colour or creed).

Are we still slaves to our primal urges? To have the biggest, most functional penis? To ensure our DNA is passed onto the next generation, regardless whether our planet can continue to support those ever expanding generations? Is a small part of our brain always going to scream over our higher conscieousness 'we must fuck!'?
Wesley Parish
19. Aladdin_Sane
I can see a use for a whole set of regrowth areas. One of my friends lost a good part of his lower intestine to intestinal cancer when he was 34 - about forty years ago. I for one would be quite supportive of research into the regrowth of intestinal cells, and the restoration of his full intestine.

And then there's the regrowth of brain cells in specific regions of the brain damaged in Traumatic Brain Injuries and strokes, and the like. That would make such a difference to many people's lives.

The nerve-cell growth mentioned in this article depends, I think, to a large extent on the research into spinal nerve cell and brain cell regrowth from stem cells done in the previous decade. That could be of immeasurable value to millions of Hansen's Disease sufferers worldwide.

I wonder if they'd call nerve-cell regrowth the Thomas Covenant phenomenon.
S. Blessing
21. tonka11
Madeline @ 14. A. It is not infantile to men, it is considered quite important that that particular organ is intact and functioning and I don't feel men should have anything to apologize for if they have a certain 'fixation' on this organ.

@ B. I agree. However, I'd like to see the ability to switch... and then switch back if the recipient so later desired. Losing one's genetalia should never be forever.
Jexral
22. Rlm
I just want to say I read about this elsewhere first. I believe they started with the penis because its the only organ an animal can live without and that they can determine if it works properly after the surgery. They have used this technology to move to other organs after they did the experimenting with the penis.
Jexral
26. Tea
@1: A man without his penis often feels like he is not a man at all. This applies to men who have lost theirs, or ftm men who were born without one. It can be incredibly traumatizing to go through life with your genitals amiss. It can cause extreme depression and grief, and some have even killed themselves over it. Do not take such things lightly.
Jexral
30. Emile Guitard
French being my first language, I apologise in advance for any english typos, grammatical errors etc.
Although I can understand the "eye roll" reaction of women vs this topic, (geee penis again...) I would like to point out that our penis is not just any organ. It has profound impacts on our psyche since it defines our masculinity. Men that have lost part or whole of their penis, or simply, its normal erectile functionality, being from cancer, accident, or a jaleous wife are not so rare as one might think. Just google it for fun, you will be surprised.
This being said, as one commenter pointed out earlier, men facing this condition view it has horrific, are often depressed, alone, divorced, and suicidal. I always find it a bit irritating to hear women saying "your penis does not define who you are" or "it's not vital, you can live without it" and other insensitive comments such as these. When hearing those comments I often ask the women "would you date, mary and/or live with a man that has no penis?"
The answers varies from "sure why not?" to "no way !", the later being far more expressed than the former, in all honesty. Lets go one step further into insensitive comments: a tragic answer: " but he still has his tongue or finger to please me! " Sadly true ... but what about HIS pleasure? Ask yourself this ladies: do you really want a eunuch for companion? So please my dear ladies out there, next time you face the "penectomy" issue, try to be a bit more sympathetic (empatic?) , you might save a life?
To finish, 10% of men aged from 0 to 100 suffer from a condition known as peyrony disease, a formation of "plaque" (scars tissue) replacing the healthy erectile tissues by rigid, none erectile ones causing intense pain and disformity while erected. I can see a huge benefit of this technology to regrow healthy tissue for these men. Not to mention the obvious normal erectile disfunction afecting many men above 40. I also fully support another comment done earlier about FGM. Too many women are horribly mutilated and depreved from sexual pleasure by this barbaric practice. Hurray for organ regrowth ! An happy and healthy sexual life to all :-)
Jexral
38. Schuyler
Hey there this thread is kinda old, but i felt that I should add that this organ regrowth movement did not actually start with the penis. There have been several successful transplants of bioengineered vaginas and liver by the same scientists who are doing the research for penises. If you're gonna comment on the issue, you should look at several sources. I am FTM and an environmental scientist, and I always planned on adoption, however, I do not feel that it is wrong of me to also wish and hope for it to be possible that I could help my wife create our own biological children. It's not just a biological need, but also an emotional one.

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