Peyronie’s disease is a condition that affects the penis, when scar tissue (called plaque) builds up inside the organ, causing it to bend upwards or to the side. In most cases, it does not affect sexual function, although some men may find that it makes sex painful or difficult.
The exact cause of Peyronie’s disease is unknown, but in many cases it may be the result of trauma to the penile area, even a minor one, that causes bleeding within the penis, leading to the development of scar tissue. Genetics may also play a role, as can Paget’s disease or gout.
The severity of this condition depends on the case: some men find that the bend is mild and doesn’t interfere with sex, while others may find it painful or difficult to get or maintain an erection. For a small number of patients, the symptoms clear up on their own or remain stable, while for others, they continue to worsen and require medical intervention.
Currently, the most common forms of treatment are oral medication and injections to break down existing scar tissue and prevent its continuing growth; surgery is usually reserved for severe cases with intense pain and loss of sexual function. Recently, some researchers have been working on using stem cells to treat and manage Peyronie’s disease.
An adult stem cell is a type of cell taken from an adult (as opposed to an embryo or umbilical cord), that has the ability to replicate itself as well as the ability to form different types of cells. For example, a stem cell could become a skin cell or a bone cell depending on what is required. Theoretically, this means that doctors could create an unlimited amount of any cell that is needed by the body.
Some trials that have been tested on rats have had some success with improving the symptoms of erectile dysfunction caused by Peyronie’s; after being injected with the cells there was evidence of reduced scar tissue and increased regenerative cells and blood flow. The researchers behind the study are hopeful that the technique can one day be applied to adult males. Other potential uses of stem cells as treatment for this include injecting the cells into the penis and following up with shock wave therapy to break up the scar tissue.
The use of stem cells as treatment for Peyronie’s disease is currently based on lab research and clinical trials, and has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.