Erectile dysfunction is an all too common problem, affecting nearly half of men aged 40-70, and causing a great deal of frustration and embarrassment. Over the years, medical science has come up with a variety of solutions for the problem, with variable results.
Even the most successful methods, including medications like Viagra, are not without their drawbacks. As a result, scientists have been working on a more long term solution that would enable men to regain spontaneous sexual function and they have begun to focus on stem cells.
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells, basically cells that have yet to take on a particular function. Everyone has a certain number of these cells in their body and over the last decade or so, doctors have figured out that these cells can be harvested and injected into a patient’s body in order to combat any number of illness and issues.
Everything from weakened joint tissue to tissue damaged by burns can be helped with an infusion of stem cells, which can then take on the characteristics of the surrounding cells, thereby helping the body to produce its own healthy cells.
While stem cell therapy has already been successfully used to combat some issues, research still continues on the possibility of using it in many other instances, including combating Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, heart disease and osteoarthritis as well as helping individuals with spinal cord injuries, damage caused by strokes or severe burn damage.
One of the most recent areas being considered for stem cell therapy is the treatment of erectile dysfunction.
Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is defined as the inability of a man to achieve a natural, spontaneous erection that allows for a normal sexual experience. ED can result from many different factors, including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, chronic kidney disease and other health conditions.
It can also be an unfortunate side effect of surgery for prostate cancer and in some cases it can be caused by psychological factors such as anxiety, stress, depression and low self esteem.
Since there can be many different causes for ED, it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint an effective treatment. Treatment can be further complicated because of the self esteem issues that ED naturally produces.
Men will often be too embarrassed to admit that they have a problem, much less actively seek treatment for it. This keeps the actual number of cases from being easily determined but it is clear that it is a very real, and very urgent, problem.
Up until now, treatment options have included such avenues as penile implants, injections and the use of PDE5 inhibitors like Viagra and Cialis. These methods, often coupled with psychological therapy to help men deal with their issues, have generally been successful but they are not ideal.
The mechanical options, like implants and injections, are invasive, can be painful and can be equally embarrassing. Viagra and other medications came as an answer to these, offering a much less invasive solution but one that can carry serious side effects and may only offer short term relief.
Eager to find an alternative that would free ED sufferers from using mechanical or medical assistance to restore normal sexual function, researchers began looking into the possibility of using stem cell therapy.
Initial results have been very encouraging, though they are still in the early stages of development. Still, the very idea of enabling men to achieve spontaneous, natural erections and enjoy a normal sex life free of outside assistance is giving many ED sufferers hope.
The research into stem cell therapy as a treatment for ED culminated in a study undertaken in 2017 by a group of scientists in Denmark. In this trial, 21 men who suffered from ED as a result of surgery for prostate cancer were injected with stem cells taken from their own abdominal fat cells under general anesthetic.
Once harvested, the cells are then processed using a centrifuge and injected into the patient’s corpus cavernosum, the spongy tissue in the penis that normally fills with blood during an erection.
While the harvesting procedure requires general anesthesia, the injection itself only requires local sedation and can be completed in a matter of minutes. There is little post-procedural pain or discomfort and relatively minor side effects such as light swelling, redness and bruising that only lasts for 12-14 hours.
All of this makes it a much less invasive option than implants or penile injections and once the cells are injected, the body takes over and begins producing its own healthy cells.
The researchers in the 2017 study were quite pleased with the overall results. All 21 patients who received the stem cell therapy reported an improvement in their erectile function 6 months after treatment and again 12 months after treatment.
In order to better gauge the effectiveness of the treatment, the men’s sexual function was assessed before treatment using the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF) questionnaire. An IIEF score of 5-7 indicates severe erectile dysfunction, 12-16 is mild to moderate and 22-25 indicates no erectile dysfunction.
Just six months after receiving the stem cell therapy, the IIEF score for all 21 subjects had risen from 6 to 12. Eight of the men in the group reported that they had been able to enjoy spontaneous sexual activity six months after the stem cell therapy and this remained the case 12 months after receiving the stem cell therapy.
The score for these men rose as high as 14. For the researchers, all of this represents clear, positive indication of the effectiveness of stem cell therapy in treating ED.
While these results are certainly promising, researchers are quick to emphasize that these are just preliminary results of a Phase I trial, the first of its kind involving human test subjects.
More research will be needed before stem cell therapy can be established as a viable new treatment option. Once the results of the Phase I trial had been collected, the researchers immediately began planning for a Phase II trial to further investigate the legitimacy of the treatment.
So what does all this mean for the thousands of men regularly suffering from erectile dysfunction? It isn’t an established answer to their problem just yet, but it definitely shows significant signs of becoming one in the not too distant future.
Before very much longer, it is likely that stem cell therapy will offer a long term solution to ED that carries minimal complications and allows a man’s body to heal itself naturally.
The more that medical science learns about these amazing cells and their extraordinary ability to heal and restore, the more the possibilities for their use begin to multiply.
For all those men who have hung their heads in shame and gone to extraordinary lengths to hide their problems with erectile dysfunction, or subjected themselves to sometimes painful and only marginally effective treatment options, this is definitely a very encouraging sign.