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Tissue engineering of the urethra: where are we in 2019?

PURPOSE: The purpose of this review is to assess the potential role of tissue engineering for urethral reconstruction. It is well- recognised that urethrotomy remains the first-line therapy in the treatment of urethral stricture. Following on from the randomised study which recommended no difference between urethrotomy and urethral dilation, Steenkamp et al. reported long-term success rates of only 20%. Patients with longer strictures, penile or distal urethral strictures, and extensive periurethral spongiofibrosis typically do not respond well to repeated incisions. This report reviews the potential role of tissue engineering as applied to augmentation urethroplasty, which is the treatment of choice following failed urethrotomy.

METHODS: A review of the literature was carried out. The principal emphasis was on tissue engineering as applied to augmentation urethroplasty, but an introductory section reviews the use of urethrotomy and the background to contemporary practise with augmentation urethroplasty using oral mucosa.

RESULTS: It is evident that a cellular matrix which requires the ingrowth of cells is unlikely to be successful except for very short strictures. Other approaches such as injection of stem cells have not been adequately trialled in humans to date. Tissue-engineered substitute for autologous oral mucosa has been used and the results relating to this are reviewed.

CONCLUSIONS: Tissue engineering of autologous tissue for urethroplasty is expensive. It is unnecessary for the majority of cases, but could be potentially useful for very lengthy strictures, for instance, relating to lichen sclerosis. Whilst tissue-engineered oral mucosa has been successfully used, a great deal more work would be necessary to develop an appropriate matrix. Another study has looked at a larger series using an alternative tissue-engineered substitute, but the results have been very disappointing. At present, it has to be concluded that there is no effective and validated tissue engineering solution for the management of urethral stricture disease.

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