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Heat-activated penile implant might restore sexual function in men with E.D.

Staff Writer |
Brian Le, a new faculty member in the Department of Urology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is hoping that a heat-activated memory metal called Nitinol, a nickel-titanium alloy, will create a better implant for men with erectile dysfunction.

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His recent paper in the journal Urology, with colleagues Alberto Colombo and Kevin McKenna at Northwestern University and Kevin McVary at Southern Illinois University, drew strong interest from the English tabloids, which dubbed it “the bionic penis.”

But restoring erectile function to men who have lost it due to cancer or other injury is no locker-room joke.

Le says his patients seek to have their sexual function restored for similar reasons as women who choose to have their breasts restored after breast cancer surgery.

“It’s a survivorship issue – restoring function can help people feel whole in their bodies again,” he says.

And there are plenty of men who need help. About 40 percent of men between the ages of 40 and 70 have some level of erectile dysfunction and about a third of them don’t respond to drugs like Viagra.

It’s a potentially large market, and one of the reasons Boston Scientific is supporting this research.

e’s solution is a heat-activated exoskeleton of nitinol, a metal known for its superelastic properties and already in use in medical devices used for endovascular surgery.

In this case, the urologist could do a simplified operation to insert the nitinol implant, which remains flaccid at body temperature but can “remember” an expanded shape and return to that shape when heated.

Le and collaborators at Southern Illinois University are currently working on a remote-control device that can be waved over the penis, using induction to heat the NiTi a few degrees above body temperature and ratcheting open the alloy prosthesis to expand the penis in length and girth.

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