The Defense Department is helping underwrite Dr. Anthony Atala’s groundbreaking work on growing new, transplantable penes from donor cells. This is pretty awesome.
The friendly folks at io9 alerted me to this remarkable research being done at Wake Forest University, partly funded by the Department of Defense. Short version: after years growing new flesh and organs from people’s own cells on sculpted lattices, Dr. Anthony Atala and his team have successfully begun work growing penises. Brand-new, lab-grown dicks, that can be safely transplanted onto the original cell donor. They’re not at human trials yet, but the process is coming along nicely, and is functionally similar to existing processes that work perfectly on patients.
This is tremendously exciting news. First and most obviously for the wounded veterans that are the reason the Defense Department is underwriting this research. (At least I hope that’s the reason. Can anyone think of some sort of sinister black-budget use for this kind of artificial sausage?) The explosives that too many soldiers have encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan tend to concentrate their damage on the lower body, and while prosthetic legs have come a long way, two out of three ain’t good, in this case. Restoring natural sexual function to these guys, not to mention the ability to pee normally, would go a long way to repaying the debt we owe them.
Beyond vets and other people with injured or damaged penises, though, there’s a lot more people who could benefit from this technology. I happen to know a number of transsexual men, and one thing they agree on is that the present state of phalloplasty is woefully inadequate. Many of the trans guys I know have chosen to simply forgo the procedure out of concern over getting a result they’re not happy with. A brand-new, functioning tool would be a godsend for many of these guys, creating a happier and more complete-feeling transition. Not every trans man wants a penis, of course, but this technology could bring a lot of joy and peace of mind to those that do.
And that brings us to the other guys who might find joy and peace of mind in a new piece of equipment: cis men who are simply unhappy with how their genetic dice shook out in the genital department. It’s easy to make fun of guys who are insecure about the size, shape, or appearance of their dick, but it’s a serious issue. Lifelong, crippling insecurity is depressingly common, and in some cases the psychological and emotional effects are worse than that.
Now, honestly, if I were unhappy with my junk, I would probably not take the step of having a new one grown on a custom lattice and installed. For one thing, my health coverage isn’t that good. Reaching a place of emotional acceptance would probably be healthier. But I don’t think I have the right to make that call for other people. Folks deserve to pursue happiness however they feel they need to, and if some fella really feels he needs a new wang to be happy, then I’m glad that will soon be an option for him.
However serious or seemingly minor people’s need for this procedure might be, it is an unequivocally good medical advance, and when it is completed, it will make people’s lives better. Let us pay tribute to Dr. Atala’s fine work in song.