01/23/2012 05:54 pm ET

Stem Cells Shown To Help Penis Problems In Rats

Stem cells sure are versatile. They're being eyed as the key to treating medical conditions ranging from heart disease to neurological problems and blindness.

Can stem cells make a better mousetrap? Maybe not, but a provocative new study shows they're capable of making something even more impressive:

A better rat penis.

And while rats might not care, urologists say the feat could be very good news for men suffering from Peyronie's disease and other deformities of the penis.

For the study, published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers led by Tulane University urologic surgeon Dr. Wayne Hellstrom tested tissue grafts on rats whose penises had been surgically scarred.

One group of rats got conventional tissue-only grafts, another grafts that had been mixed with stem cells taken from their own bodies, ScienceNOW reported. A third group underwent so-called "sham" surgery that didn't involve a graft, and a fourth group got no treatment at all.

What happened? When tested eight weeks later, the rats that got the stem cell tissue-grafts showed better healing and better sexual function than rats in the other groups.

What's the next step? Hellstrom said he and his colleagues would test the technique in primates and eventually in humans, according to ScienceNOW. "Peyronie's affects 3% to 9% of adult males and causes a lot of psychological distress," he said. "If we can improve what we have now, it seems like the logical thing to do."

No word yet on that mouse trap.