Recently, a biohacker made news because he went to a Florida clinic to have his penis injected to make it bigger. He had no disease or problems with erectile dysfunction. This is the same clinic that blinded three patients by injecting fat stem cells into their eyes. I know this sounds like something out of The Onion, but, regrettably, it’s true.
The guy who had stem cells injected into his penis claims to be a biohacker. What’s that? Someone willing to try crazy things to enhance the human body. Perhaps the most important part of this story is that he has told numerous news outlets that he has no erectile dysfunction and has an otherwise healthy male sexual organ. He just wanted to get a bigger penis.
The general idea here is using a fat graft enhanced with stem cells and injecting that into the connective-tissue parts of the penis to add more bulk. If you look at the cross-section below, this is the yellow area:
A fat graft, when used for cosmetic purposes, has been shown to stay around longer when stem cells are added. Hence, this is really a stem cell-enhanced fat graft into the penis.
While surgical procedures on the penis are legal, the creation of fat stem cells (called stromal vascular fraction, or SVF) is not legal. The FDA has declared this a drug that needs approval for every indication. The clinic that did this procedure has been warned by the FDA that they are creating an unapproved, misbranded, and adulterated drug product.
While there are any number of procedures that are performed for patients who have erectile dysfunction and some of them are invasive (such as penile implants), these are done for a specific purpose. Medicine is all about balancing risks and benefits. Hence, an experimental stem cell procedure performed on a fully functional and otherwise normal penis would be considered to be too much risk for unknown benefit. As an example of the risks, in an injection procedure, it would be possible to damage the neurovascular machinery in the penis that provides for sensation and erection. That could happen due to needle damage or some other unknown property of how the stem cells will interact with the tissue in the penis.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this penile therapy is the fact that it crosses the line from therapy to enhancement. Meaning, in the orthopedic world, this would be the equivalent of a body builder coming to see me to have stem cells injected into his muscles to make them bigger. After all, the hematopoietic stem cells found in bone marrow concentrate have been known to substitute for muscle stem cells (satellite cells) when they’re depleted, so, theoretically, stem cell injections into muscles may add bulk and strength. However, this is not something we would ever do as it crosses the line from medical care into enhancement. Why? Like above, the risks outweigh the possible benefit.
Perhaps the most famous ethical conundrum in medicine is the use of human growth hormone (HGH) for athletic performance enhancement. While HGH can be used medically, it’s unethical and illegal to use it for enhancement. In my book, this penis enhancement isn’t all that different than HGH. One is athletic performance and the other is sexual.
The upshot? You just can’t make this stuff up! I’m not sure why any clinic would believe that it’s OK to inject a stem cell-enhanced fat graft into a patient’s perfectly normal and functioning penis, but this is America folks! In the meantime, who knows, one day maybe Austin Powers won’t need that Swedish-made penis enlarger!
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About the Author
Christopher J. Centeno, M.D. is an international expert and specialist in regenerative medicine and the clinical use of mesenchymal stem cells in orthopedics. He is board certified in physical medicine as well as rehabilitation and in pain management through The American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.…