The first penis transplant has resulted in a pregnancy, health officials report. Surgeons who took part in the operation were informed that their unnamed patient's girlfriend has recently learned she is expecting a child.

Andre van der Merwe, a urologist at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, made the announcement at a public lecture.

"The recipient, who lost his penis due to a botched circumcision, is still being monitored six months after the delicate nine-hour micro surgery was successfully completed at the Tygerberg Hospital in December last year," Tammy Peterson reports for News 24 in South Africa.

The botched ceremonial circumcision was performed when the young man was 18 years old. An infection from that ceremony resulted in the complete loss of his reproductive organ. Ethnic groups in South Africa, including the Xhosa and Ndebele, frequently perform adult circumcisions. Poor sanitation during these procedures results in infections and around 250 penis amputations being performed each year among the population there. In 2013, 43 men died there from the practice.

Surgeons needed a donated penis to give to the young man. In order to use one from a corpse, the medical team had to agree to fashion one for it from abdominal skin so it could be attached to the cadaver prior to burial. South African law provides that body parts cannot be harvested from corpses without the family's consent, even in the case of organ donors, and this way the surgeons were able to satisfy the family's request.

"Our goal was that he would be fully functional at two years, and we are very surprised by his rapid recovery," said van der Merwe, leader of the Division of Urology at Stellenbosch University.

Up to nine more men are awaiting penis transplants from the surgical team that performed this first operation. The procedure could also hold hope for the men who have suffered the loss of, or damage to, their male appendage in these circumcisions, or from other causes.  

Donations may not be needed for such transplants in the future. In 2014, researchers reported some success in growing artificial biological penises, using cells taken from recipients. If successful, this technique could eliminate the dangers of a patient rejecting their new organ. This would also reduce the need for treatments to reduce the immune system of recipients, which can carry its own set of health risks.

The 21-year-old transplant patient is recovering well from his operation, although hospital staff still have the man under observation. Further operations may be scheduled to improve on the work done during the initial procedure performed six months ago. The next of these operations could take place as early as the middle of August.

Photo: Artur Bergman | Flickr

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