Over the past decade, numerous studies of applying stem cells for erectile dysfunction treatment have been conducted. According to these studies, stem cell therapy is proved to be effective in treating erectile dysfunction at least in animal models.
Erectile dysfunction affects men worldwide. Despite psychogenic factors being the major ED cause, other factors can also cause ED, with age, diabetes, radiation in the pelvis, total prostatectomy etc. being among them. In the cases, when the structure of the cavernous body has been severely damaged due to disease or surgery, the routine treatment methods are ineffective as the recovery of erectile function depends on the regeneration of the cavernous body. In this regard, researchers are trying to develop more effective treatment methods, namely, gene therapy and stem cell therapy.
The researchers studied predominantly the use of adult stem cells from various sources, such as umbilical cord blood, adipose tissue, bone marrow, and others, for treating erectile dysfunction. Umbilical cord blood stem cells proved to be the most promising as they are the youngest stem cells from the list above and have less possibility to have DNA damage. In one study, umbilical cord blood stem cells were used to treat diabetic patients with ED. As a result of the treatment, not only blood glucose levels decreased, but also erectile function was restored, in the participating patients.
The efficacy of bone marrow and adipose stem cells in the treatment of ED has also been demonstrated in numerous studies, and this efficacy seems to be reliable. However, the mechanism by which these stem cells restore erectile function is not yet clear. Some studies indicate that stem cells differentiate into the vascular endothelial cells, vascular smooth muscle cells, and nerve cells of the cavernous body, while others suggest that stem cells exert their effects via the secretion of anti-apoptotic and/or proangiogenic cytokines. The researchers who reviewed the studies concluded that the effects of the stem cell therapy are achieved by secretion of paracrine factors rather than by their direct differentiation into cavernous body cells.
Although stem cells can be efficiently applied to treat erectile dysfunction, further research is need. First of all, safety studies should be conducted to ensure that treatment does not cause malignant effects. Secondly, it is important to increase stem cell survival and engraftment in the recipient’s body to make the therapy more effective.