Men with erectile dysfunction cannot achieve or maintain an erection suitable for sexual intercourse. Erectile dysfunction can be devastating for the men who suffer from it, putting a strain on intimate relationships, and causing significant emotional suffering. Sadly, half of all men between the age of 40 and 70 experience some degree of erectile dysfunction. Fifteen percent of men are completely impotent, and many men do not respond to typical treatments.
Many men with erectile dysfunction can be successfully treated with phosphodiesterase type-5 inhibitors such as Viagra or Cialis. These pills can be taken daily or as needed to allow men to achieve erections when desired. However, these medications have some significant side effects. For example, these drugs can cause an unsafe drop in blood pressure, especially in people who are taking nitrate medications for heart and cardiovascular diseases. Likewise, these drugs can be expensive, since they are not always covered by insurance programs.
It also should be pointed out, that not all men find success from these erectile dysfunction drugs and must turn to penile injections. Penile injections are particularly inconvenient because an injection must be performed prior to each sexual encounter.
Since most men who suffer from erectile dysfunction have problems with the blood vessel system that makes erections possible, scientists have been investigating the possibility of using stem cells to help regenerate and regrow the cells in that system. While there have only been a handful of clinical trials using stem cells to treat erectile dysfunction, the results are promising.
Bahk and co-authors used umbilical cord stem cells to treat seven men with erectile dysfunction related to their type 2 diabetes. Almost all of the men who received a penile injection of stem cells experienced a return of morning erections and reported an increase in penile hardness. This effect lasted for at least three months after the injection.
Another research group tested adipose (fat tissue) stem cells in men who had erectile dysfunction due to prostate removal surgery. Some of these men also lost their ability to control urine (i.e. urinary incontinence). Eight of 17 men in the trial recovered erectile function. Interestingly, the incontinent men were the ones I the group of 17 who failed to achieve a benefit from stem cell injections.
Lastly, researchers tested stem cells taken from placental tissues (not embryonic stem cells) in men with erectile dysfunction of unknown cause. Men who were treated with stem cells enjoyed a significant increase in blood flow and blood pressure to the penile area. Likewise, several men regained the ability to achieve and sustain erections even though they had been completely impotent before the treatment.
While this research is ongoing, these results are incredibly encouraging for men (and their partners) who struggle with erectile dysfunction. The benefits of stem cells are particularly relevant for men who do not receive any or complete improvement in erectile dysfunction from ED medications. While these treatments do require a penile injection, the effects tend to last much longer than current, non-stem cell penile injections (three months or longer), which is an important innovation and makes treatment far more convenient for patients.