Erectile dysfunction is the most common sexual disorder among men. During an erection, blood enters the tissues within the penis and is temporarily trapped there. In erectile dysfunction, however, this process does not occur. A man who suffers from this condition is unable to achieve a penile erection sufficient for sexual intercourse.
Erectile dysfunction has many causes ranging from neurological conditions to vascular (blood vessel) conditions to psychological conditions. In most men, erectile dysfunction is caused by a problem in blood flow and nitric oxide production, which is why drugs like the Viagra and Cialis are effective for some men because they temporarily reverse these problems.
Results from a review of 54 research studies showed that stem cell-based therapies may be able to reverse these effects on a more permanent basis. For example, mesenchymal stem cells were able to increase the number of enzymes that produce nitric oxide. Likewise, mesenchymal stem cells increased the size of penile tissue in older rats. Indeed, stem cell injections were able to restore erectile function in rats with diabetes.
Based on these laboratory results, researchers have conducted clinical trials using stem cells to treat men with erectile dysfunction. In one such trial, researchers used a person’s own fatty tissue (adipose) to generate stem cells. They then injected those cells into men with erectile dysfunction. Eight out of 11 men treated with stem cells regained erectile function. In another small study, eight men with profound erectile dysfunction in whom oral ED treatments failed received placenta-derived stem cells. Two of the patients were able to achieve and sustain erections six weeks after treatment while an additional patient was able to do so after three months.
Laboratory studies of stem cells in the treatment of erectile dysfunction are extremely promising. The clinical studies in this area are limited, and the results are somewhat less impressive. Nonetheless, as improvements and refinements are made to stem cell technology, this approach could offer hope to men with erectile dysfunction, especially those men who have not been helped by ED drugs.
Reference: Albersen, M. et al. (2013). Stem-cell therapy for erectile dysfunction. Arab Journal of Urology. 2013 Sep; 11(3): 237–244.