1. Health
Cory Silverberg

Why Rats Hate Nanotechnology, but Your Penis Might Love It

By September 21, 2009

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Let’s start with the “good” or at least “promising” news, about your penis. In a paper published today in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University report on a new topical delivery method for treating erectile dysfunction. From a prepared release:

The drug-delivery system, developed by Einstein scientists, consists of nanoparticles – each smaller than a grain of pollen – that can carry tiny payloads of various drugs or other medically useful substances and release them in a controlled and sustained manner. I love the use of the word “payloads”.

It’s like it’s impossible for people to write about penises without resorting to porn metaphors. Anyway, this new way of applying medication is particularly interesting because the currently most common way of treating ED, orally, is neither as effective nor as safe as those sexy commercials lead you to believe:

Tens of millions of men worldwide have benefited from oral ED medications such as sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra), and tadalafil (Cialis). However, these medications - which belong to a class of drugs called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors - have limitations. They can cause systemic side effects that can be serious. These side effects include headache, facial flushing, nasal congestion, upset stomach, abnormal vision as well as isolated reports of hearing and vision loss. Men who've recently suffered a heart attack or stroke or have severe heart disease should use these drugs with caution or not at all. In addition, "an estimated 30 to 50 percent of men with ED do not respond to oral use of PDE5 inhibitors," says senior author Kelvin P. Davies, Ph.D., associate professor of urology at Einstein.

This research is just beginning and it could be another ten years before a commercial product is available for human use. But there was another aspect of the study that I think needs to be commented on.

The 18 rats involved as research subjects. Somehow the researchers bred these rats to have “age related ED”. Then somehow they topically applied one of three different treatments to the rat penises. Then they watched and timed the rat erections (that one I can figure out). Finally they killed the rats and analyzed the tissues around the penis to check for inflammation and toxicity.

There’s no love lost between rats and me, but even in the cold language of science this seems harsh and unnecessary. I don’t do a lot to prevent the abuse of animals in the service of research. But sometimes when I’m reading research I imagine a future where animals rule the world, have enslaved humans, and speak English. And I imagine them sitting around (usually they’re playing poker) talking about the f-d up stuff we did to them. I’m pretty sure this research is going to get honorable mention at that table.

Read more - Topical erectile dysfunction therapy shows promise

Image provided by Albert Einstein College of Medicine

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