Researchers from the US and China have been working together to improve treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED), releasing the details of their study in “Functional reconstruction of injured corpus cavernosa using 3D-printed hydrogel scaffolds seeded with HIF-1α-expressing stem cells.” Treatment for ED can be difficult, with a multitude of different therapies and medications prescribed worldwide; however, in this study, the researchers focused on treatment for men with actual injury to the erectile tissue, seeding heparin-coated, 3D-printed hydrogel scaffolds for furthering the development of bioengineered vascularized corpora.
Once damaged, the corpus cavernosum is not a candidate for regenerative treatment. And, while lack of erectile function is a major concern, urinary function can be affected, too, leading to even more serious problems. The authors report that, though transplantation may be an option, it is controversial. Accellular matrix replacement has been considered as a possibility also, but one that yields numerous challenges and some lack of success. In seeking a comprehensive solution, the researchers turned to 3D printing “complex biomimetic structures.”
“The hydrogel scaffold was selected because it could be developed to have a mechanically strong porous structure that provided a good microenvironment and space to support cell growth, adhesion and migration, and thus structurally and mechanically match the natural corpora cavernosa,” explained the researchers. “The reconstruction of the microvascular system plays a vital role in the recovery of corpora cavernosa functions.”
Because of the obvious and critical role that blood supply plays in successful treatment, the researchers fabricated scaffolds that could not only reduce fibrosis from the defect, but also restore the vascular network and necessary tissue. HIF-1α mutated muscle-derived stem cells (MDSCs) were seeded onto the scaffolds for implantation into the corpora cavernosa.
The process was successful, with results seen within four months. The researchers noted that, post-harvest in mice, the scaffolds showed no tissue necrosis; were found to be degradable; and also sustained tissue viability in vivo. More new blood vessels were found in the heparin-coated scaffolds for the mHIF1α group than others, with new tissue growing over the whole scaffold, filling the pores during the degrading process. This led the researchers to note that overall data demonstrated that the mHIF-1α group “promoted the healing of the injured corpus cavernosa compared to the other implantation groups.”
“Consequently, the ICP/MAP values of corpora cavernosa repaired by HIF-1α-mutated MDSCs-loaded scaffolds become comparable to those of normal corpora cavernosa and the relative maximum contraction force (MCF) is up to 77% of native corpora cavernosa,” concluded the researchers. “Besides, the newborn rabbits from the male rabbits treated by HIF-1α-mutated MDSCs-loaded scaffolds further confirm the recovery of physiological functions, including erectile function and ejaculation function, in the treated rabbits.”
“Our work represents a significant step towards developing bioengineered vascularized corpora. It is the first report on 3D printed bioengineered scaffolds to successfully repair the defects and restore the erectile and ejaculation function, allowing the rabbits to recover their reproductive capability. Our strategy to repair cavernous tissue has outstanding value in accelerating the reconstruction of sinusoid structures. In addition to repairing the cavernosum tissue defects, these 3D-printed scaffolds have the potential to repair other vascularized tissues, such as skin, nasal tissue and myocardial tissue.”
While 3D printing scaffolds to assist in treatment of ED is more unique in terms of typical research connected with such technology, scientists around the world continue to perform a variety of studies involving neural scaffolds for spinal cord regeneration, titanium scaffolds imitating trabecular structures, and designs for bone tissue engineering.
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