Tissue engineers who recently demonstrated penis replacement in animals have now added a vital missing component – nerve cells.

“The nerve cells are very important – they are responsible for all the sensory function,” says Anthony Atala, at Boston Children’s Hospital. “In order to do complete [penile] replacements we need to make sure all of the parts are there, including the nerves.”

In September 2002, Atala and his colleagues replaced missing chunks of penis in live rabbits with tissues grown in the lab. But the replacement penile tissues consisted only of muscle and endothelial cells, which were inserted alongside intact nerve cells. Their new work is the first time that penile nerve tissue has been regenerated.

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