Swiss scientists from ETH Zurich have developed a gene therapy that uses blue light to induce erections. It is hoped that this therapy may eventually be used to treat erectile dysfunction (ED).
So far, the treatment has been successful in rat studies. The researchers plan to start clinical trials on humans.
The therapy involves injecting genetic material into the penis directly. When exposed to blue light, biological processes stimulate the production of cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). In turn, calcium levels in cells decrease, muscles relax and the penis can fill with blood. The erection gradually subsides as an enzyme breaks down cGMP.
Thus, an erection is triggered by blue light, not by sexual stimulation.
“In this way, we circumvent the usual sexual stimulation that triggers a cascade of signals in the body and ultimately leads to an erection,” said lead researcher Martin Fussenegger, a professor of Biotechnology and Bioengineering at ETH, in a press release.
Mr. Fussenegger did not expect the procedure to have many side effects in humans, nor should self-injection deter patients from using the therapy.
“Injection of a gene construct should not be a barrier to potential users, as injections in the erectile tissue are already a standard treatment for erectile dysfunction these days,” he said in the news release.
He also noted that the penis is mostly separated from regular blood circulation, so it’s unlikely the gene construct would spread or move to other parts of the body.
The treatment could give men with ED another option. While oral medications are popular, they are not appropriate for all patients.
The ETH scientists have been working on this project for four years and plan to continue the research.
“Before it can be used as a treatment, it requires highly expensive clinical tests. We are actively looking for partners to put our technology into clinical practice,” Mr. Fussenegger said.
Angewandte Chemie International Edition
Kim, Taeuk, et al.
“A Synthetic Erectile Optogenetic Stimulator Enabling Blue-Light-Inducible Penile Erection”
(Abstract. First published online: March 18, 2015)
“Blue light to replace a little blue pill?”
(April 13, 2015)
“From blue pill to blue light”
(Press release. March 20, 2015)
Genetics Home Reference
“What is gene therapy?”
(April 28, 2015)