It's now possible to replace a defective, damaged, or diseased penis with a penis grown in a laboratory -- in rabbits.

But the finding promises an amazing new treatment for infants, boys, and men who suffer penis disfigurement. The replacement organ would be grown on a penis-shaped matrix seeded with cells from the patient's own body.

Researcher Anthony Atala, MD, director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, reported the findings at this week’s annual meeting of the American Urological Association in Atlanta.

"Our goal is eventually to treat infants and adults with birth defects, penis trauma, or penis cancer," Atala tells WebMD. "But this is a future goal. We are now deciding which animal model to explore next."

While human trials are still far off, the Atala team's recent accomplishments make their goal highly credible. Atala and colleagues recently reported successfully using much the same technique to replace defective bladders in human children with spina bifida.

In the rabbit study, Atala's team removed the penises from rabbits and entirely replaced the organs with penises grown from the animal's own cells.

Atala says the new penises have blood vessels and nerves that allow them to become fully functional. Indeed, the replacement penises worked like a charm. The rabbits were able to get erections, mate with females, and get females pregnant with normal, healthy pups.

By Daniel J. DeNoon, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: K.-L. Chen, abstract 1323, annual meeting of the American Urological Association, Atlanta, May 20-25, 2006. Anthony Atala, MD, director, Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Winston-Salem, N.C.