In recent years, many studies have investigated the use of stem cells in treatments for male sexual problems, such as erectile dysfunction (ED) and Peyronie’s disease. While many of these projects show some promise, further study is needed before such therapies can be deemed beneficial, according to a recent article in Sexual Medicine Reviews.
Current treatments for these conditions can temporarily relieve symptoms but are unable to cure the condition. For example, phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors, which are commonly prescribed for ED, may enhance erectile function, but once the medication is stopped, the ED returns. In contrast to these treatments, some preliminary studies have suggested that stem cell therapies could potentially improve various sexual dysfunctions without need for ongoing treatments.
The review article focused on preclinical studies and clinical trials of stem cells on ED and Peyronie’s disease. The authors looked at studies involving humans or animals.
Stem cells are different from other types of cells in the body, as they perform no specific functions. When they divide, however, they can either copy themselves or they can become specialized cells that take on the properties of other tissue. It’s possible that stem cells could help regenerate damaged tissue.
The reviewed studies involved embryonic and adult mesenchymal cell types. Overall, stem cells injected into animals had positive results and no adverse events were reported. However, these results cannot be applied to humans. One concern with some of the animal data is that the exact mechanism that led to the improvements is not clear and may relate to “paracrine effects” (involving tissue that surrounds the cells). Cellular engraftment might be an “auxiliary mechanism,” the authors noted.
In reviewing studies done in humans, the authors noted that currently published data are only from phase 1 trials, which concentrate on safety. There is currently not enough data to know if stem cells in humans would provide any benefit or not.
They called for several areas of focus for future research including studies evaluating the safety and efficacy of the treatments in humans. A better understanding on stem cell migration, survival, and differentiation is also needed. Scientists will also need to focus on the types of stem cells that are most effective.
The authors stressed that while studies on stem cells and male sexual dysfunction are encouraging, it is too soon to consider them a viable therapy. “No [stem cell] treatment should be offered to patients with ED outside an ethics committee-approved protocol,” they wrote.
(Page last updated: February 21, 2017)
Sexual Medicine Reviews
Soebadi, Mohammad Ayodhia, MD, et al.
“Stem Cells in Male Sexual Dysfunction: Are We Getting Somewhere?”
(Published online: December 30, 2016)