There is currently no known cure for erectile dysfunction. Treatments commonly focus on managing the symptoms of the condition but do not offer a permanent solution. Evidence suggests that regenerative medicine may offer a better, more effective option.
Erectile Dysfunction and Treatments
Erectile dysfunction (simply referred to as ED) is a common sexual health condition in men that is characterized by the lack of ability to achieve or maintain an erection. Lack or reduction of sexual desire is another common symptom that comes with this defect.
Estimates have it that as high as 65 percent of men in the age range 40-80 years have ED issues. ED is projected to affect roughly 322 million men by 2025.
Men can develop this sexual health issue, which is also sometimes called impotence, for a variety of reasons. It can be traced to physical and psychological factors. These include smoking, too much alcohol consumption, medications, certain diseases, stress, anxiety, and depression.
Oral medications, most notably phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitors, are the most popular options for treating ED currently. For more severe cases, intracavernosal injections, penile implants, and other more invasive treatment options are preferred.
These common treatments are not suitable for everyone. They are rather costly, not up to scratch, risky (in terms of complications), or contraindicated for some patients.
Exploring Regenerative Therapies
Regenerative medicine is currently being seen as the new frontier in the treatment of erection problems. Restorative therapies are intended to help by regenerating damaged tissue (nerves and muscles) and regulating growth factor expressions. As a result, they could potentially “cure” ED.
Several regenerative therapies are currently being used or studied for this purpose. Among them are platelet-rich plasma, stem cell therapy, low-intensity extracorporeal shockwave therapy, and amniotic fluid matrices.
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP)
Researchers have shown that PRP may be helpful for restoring erectile function. This therapy involves the injection of a patient’s own concentrated platelets. PRP boasts of a considerably higher number of platelets than usual as well as diverse growth factors and other active components. The treatment is thought to benefit patients by working via the endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) pathway.
PRP has shown in phase I clinical trials in humans to provide a modest improvement in erectile function. Researchers have observed a connection to nerve regeneration. The therapy does not come with major issues, barring bruising in some patients.
Stem cell therapy (SCT)
One of the most promising regenerative therapy options, SCT uses undifferentiated or partly differentiated cells that are known as stem cells. These cells can develop into varied cell types with specialized functions in the body. This quality makes them helpful for treating many conditions, including ED.
Researchers have explored the possibility of using mesenchymal stem cells from adipose tissue or bone marrow for the treatment of ED patients. These cells release growth factors, cytokines, and chemokines that can aid tissue regeneration.
Notable improvements in erectile function have been observed from treating ED with stem cells from adipose tissue and umbilical cord blood. This therapy was combined with PDE-5 inhibitors or platelet lysate in some cases.
Although more invasive, intracavernosal injections have been used for this therapy in more trials, compared to intravenous injections.
Low-intensity extracorporeal shockwave therapy (LiESWT)
This novel treatment uses an energy source – electromagnetic, electrohydraulic, or piezoelectric – to produce shockwaves. These shockwaves carry energy to damaged tissues and bring about a flow of biological reactions. Tissue regeneration and angiogenesis (creation of new blood cells) may result to enhance erectile function.
LiESWT has been evaluated in both animal and human studies. It was shown to boost micro-circulation, increase nitric oxide levels, and promote better recruitment or activation of progenitor and stem cells in animals. In humans, the therapy was found to produce improvement in patients that had not responded to PDE-5 inhibitors in some trials.
Amniotic fluid matrices
An amniotic matrix is a substance (an allograft) that is rich in growth factors, cytokines, and other components that help promote healing. Dehydrated human amnion membrane allografts have been found to be helpful for the timely revival of erectile function.
Evidence suggests that amniotic fluid matrices may not offer a permanent solution, however. The benefits appear to be temporary.