Prostate cancer is quite common among men in the United States. The main treatment options for prostate cancer include:
- External beam radiation – Radiation is applied to the prostate gland through the skin (noninvasive)
- Brachytherapy – Radioactive pellets the size of grains of rice are placed within the prostate gland (invasive)
- Radical prostatectomy – The entire prostate gland and some surrounding tissue is removed
About one-quarter of all men with prostate cancer ultimately choose to have a radical prostatectomy. Unfortunately, this procedure often leaves men with chronic problems afterward, such as urinary incontinence (i.e., the inability to hold or control urine) and erectile dysfunction (i.e., the inability to achieve and maintain a penile erection suitable for sexual intercourse). Almost 90% of men who undergo radical prostatectomy to treat prostate cancer develop erectile dysfunction. Drugs and penile injections are not always effective in treating this type of erectile dysfunction. Consequently, as many as three-quarters of men must live with permanent erectile dysfunction. While prostate cancer is essentially cured after radical prostatectomy, affected men have substantially worse quality of life, which also negatively affects their sexual partners.
In an effort to combat this difficult problem, researchers conducted a Phase 1 clinical trial in which they took stem cells from the patient’s own fat tissue (autologous stem cells), purified them, and injected them into the penile tissue of radical prostatectomy patients with erectile dysfunction. Eight of the 17 men who volunteered for the clinical trial regained erectile function and were able to engage in sexual intercourse after just one stem cell injection.
Importantly, stem cell treatment was only effective for men who had not developed urinary incontinence. Eight of 11 men who still could control their urine after radical prostatectomy regained their ability to achieve and maintain erections. Conversely, no man with urinary incontinence after radical prostatectomy had erectile function restored.
The researchers noted that the stem cell treatment was very well tolerated by all men, and described the procedure as safe.
While larger clinical trials are needed to confirm these results, autologous stem cells taken from a patient’s own fat tissue were able to restore erectile function in most of the men treated. This research suggests that men who do not lose urinary function may benefit from this procedure. On the other hand, men who become incontinent after radical prostatectomy may not benefit from this particular stem cell therapy. Randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials will help clarify this issue. In the meantime, these results are encouraging news to thousands of men who suffer from permanent erectile dysfunction as a result of their radical prostatectomies.
Reference: Haahr, MK et al. (2016). Safety and Potential Effect of a Single Intracavernous Injection of Autologous Adipose-Derived Regenerative Cells in Patients with Erectile Dysfunction Following Radical Prostatectomy: An Open-Label Phase I Clinical Trial. EBioMedicine. 2016 Jan 19;5:204-10.