Penis Transplants Approved for Wounded Soldiers

From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 7, 2015 -- Approval has been given for penis transplants on dozens of American soldiers who suffered genital injuries from bomb blasts in Afghanistan.

Johns Hopkins University granted permission to surgeons in the School of Medicine to perform the experimental procedure on 60 patients, The New York Times reported.

This type of transplant has never been performed in the United States. The Hopkins team plans to perform their first one within a year, perhaps in just a few months.

The organ will come from a deceased donor and the doctors said it should start working within a few months. Along with normal urinary function and sensation, the men should also regain sexual function over time, The Times reported.

So far, only two penis transplants are known to have been attempted worldwide. The first one by Chinese doctors in 2006 failed, but there was a successful one in South Africa last year. Like other major transplants, risks include bleeding, infection and the risk that drugs used to prevent transplant rejection will increase a patient's risk of cancer.

Patients should be realistic and not "think they can regain it all," Dr. W. P. Andrew Lee, chair of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Johns Hopkins, told The Times.

However, he noted that some patients hope to father children and "that is a realistic goal."

The Hopkins surgeons will transplant only the penis, not the testes, where sperm are produced. That means that if a transplant recipient with intact testes fathers a child, it will be from his sperm, not that of the penis donor, The Times reported.

Men who have lost their testes may still be able to have penis transplants, but would not be able to have genetically-related children.

Between 2001 and 2013, 1,367 American military personnel suffered genital wounds while serving in Afghanistan or Iraq, according to the Department of Defence Trauma Registry. Nearly all were injured by improvised explosive devices.

"These genitourinary injuries are not things we hear about or read about very often," Lee told The Times. "I think one would agree it is as devastating as anything that our wounded warriors suffer, for a young man to come home in his early 20s with the pelvic area completely destroyed."

Some experts criticize penis transplants because they are not necessary to save a man's life, but when "you meet these people, you see how important it is," Dr. Richard Redett, director of pediatric plastic and reconstructive surgery at Johns Hopkins, told The Times.

"To be missing the penis and parts of the scrotum is devastating," he noted. "That part of the body is so strongly associated with your sense of self and identify as a male. These guys have given everything they have."