New research from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine shows that erectile dysfunction, caused by nerve damage, can be treated with a sonic hedgehog delivered via a nanofibre gel. The study, done with rats, showed the protein regenerated the damaged nerve twice as fast as it would have regenerated on its own. Speeding up the nerve healing is essential in order to prevent cell death in the penis and to preserve erectile function.
"This discovery about sonic hedgehog could be applicable not only to erectile dysfunction after prostate surgery but also when the cavernous nerve is damaged by diabetes, which also causes erectile dysfunction," said principal investigator Carol Podlasek. The whimsically named sonic hedgehog, with a wink to the popular video game character, is a vital building block in the body that promotes nerve regeneration and directs the activity of many other proteins in the body.
"There is a tremendous need for a therapy to treat erectile dysfunction caused by cavernous nerve damage," Podlasek said. "The biggest concern for many men before they undergo surgery for prostate cancer is quality of life after surgery. It not only affects the men undergoing surgery but also their partners."
When a man's cancerous prostate gland is removed, the fragile cavernous nerve is often damaged when it is crushed or pulled during surgery. Once the nerve is damaged, smooth muscle cells quickly begin to die in the penis. The consequent scarring prevents the smooth muscle from relaxing and allowing blood to flow into its tissue to become erect.
"Once the muscle starts to die off, you don't get an erection or you get less of an erection," Podlasek said. "The muscle damage is irreversible, so it's essential to heal the damaged nerve as quickly as possible."
For the current study, Podlasek combined sonic hedgehog with a nanofibre gel. She applied the nanofibres to crushed cavernous nerves in rats. When she examined the nerves six weeks later, they had regenerated twice as fast as they would have on their own.
MEDICA.de; Source: Northwestern University