Excuse My Adlib Radio

EMA blog

Genital Transplant, Anyone?

I work for Johns Hopkins in the research field, so I’m privy to all sorts of information about new clinical trials to test a new cancer drug, etc. My department is responsible for facilitating the ethical review and approval of research studies before they are implemented in human subjects. God forbid you are living with a chronic illness (common or rare), if the drug is or was experimental at some point, and you are seeing a Hopkins-affiliated physician, the chances are that my department approved the protocol outlining your treatment. Cool, right?

I project manage the IT side of things these days, so the only time I’m able to read through new protocols is when I’m doing follow-up research about studies that were approved and are on-going. It’s rewarding to find out if a project you helped approve is actually helping people! Yesterday, as I was looking through articles involving Hopkins researchers, I came across the words: “Penis Transplant”. Say word? How does this work? And in what situation would someone consent to such a thing?

Background: A U.S. soldier was injured in an explosion in which he lost his male genitals. He will be the first person in the U.S. to receive a penis transplant at (use guessed it) Johns Hopkins Hospital.

How? Surgeons are hoping to receive a donated organ from a recently deceased man, which will provide full function including urination, sensation and sex. The surgery requires joining nerves and blood vessels under a microscope. How cool is that?

The surgery could occur in the coming weeks. Doctors are looking for a donor who is a good match in terms of age and skin color. The donor’s family will need to give permission for the penis to be removed.

This isn’t the first attempt at such a transplant. The first attempt (unsuccessful) was in China in 2006. The second attempt in South Africa in 2014 was a success.

It raises some ethical concerns, but how is it any different than a heart or kidney transplant? You’re replacing a missing or damaged part, and in this case, restoring male pride AND the ability for someone to father children. It’s a miracle. I LOVE research. Now if successful, there is worry that there may not be enough donors to meet the demand, but unlike other major organs, this is cosmetic — not life saving.

What are your thoughts?