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Stellenbosch University doctors perform first successful penile transplant in the world
Author: Marketing & Communications
Published: 13/03/2015

In a ground-breaking operation, a team of pioneering surgeons from Stellenbosch University (SU) and Tygerberg Hospital performed the first successful penile transplant in the world.

The marathon nine-hour operation, led by Prof André van der Merwe, head of SU's Division of Urology, was performed on 11 December 2014 at Tygerberg Hospital in Bellville, Cape Town. This is the second time that this type of procedure was attempted, but the first time in history that a successful long-term result was achieved.

"South Africa remains at the forefront of medical progress," says Prof Jimmy Volmink, Dean of SU's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS). "This procedure is another excellent example of how medical research, technical know-how and patient-centred care can be combined in the quest to relieve human suffering. It shows what can be achieved through effective partnerships between academic institutions and government health services." 

Van der Merwe was assisted by Prof Frank Graewe, head of the Division of Plastic Reconstructive Surgery at SU FMHS, Prof Rafique Moosa, head of the FMHS Department of Medicine, transplant coordinators, anaesthetists, theatre nurses, a psychologist, an ethicist and other support staff.

The patient, whose identity is being protected for ethical reasons, has made a full recovery and has regained all function in the newly transplanted organ.

 "Our goal was that he would be fully functional at two years and we are very surprised by his rapid recovery," says Van der Merwe. The end result of the transplant was the restoration of all the patient's urinary and reproductive functions.

 "It's a massive breakthrough. We've proved that it can be done – we can give someone an organ that is just as good as the one that he had," says Graewe. "It was a privilege to be part of this first successful penis transplant in the world."

"Western Cape Government Health (WCGH) is very proud to be part of this ground-breaking scientific achievement," says Dr Beth Engelbrecht, head of the WCGH. "We are proud of the medical team, who also form part of our own staff compliment at Tygerberg Hospital. It is good to know that a young man's life has been significantly changed with this very complex surgical feat. From experience we know that penile dysfunction and disfigurement has a major adverse psychological effect on people."

The procedure was part of a pilot study to develop a penile transplant procedure that could be performed in a typical South African hospital theatre setting.

"There is a greater need in South Africa for this type of procedure than elsewhere in the world, as many young men lose their penises every year due to complications from traditional circumcision," explains Van der Merwe.

Three years ago the 21-year-old recipient's penis had to be amputated in order to save his life when he developed severe complications after a traditional circumcision. Although there are no formal records on the number of penile amputations per year due to traditional circumcision, one study reported up to 55 cases in the Eastern Cape alone, and experts estimate as many as 250 amputations per year across the country.

"This is a very serious situation. For a young man of 18 or 19 years the loss of his penis can be deeply traumatic. He doesn't necessarily have the psychological capability to process this. There are even reports of suicide among these young men," says Van der Merwe.

"The heroes in all of this for me are the donor, and his family. They saved the lives of many people because they donated the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, skin, corneas, and then the penis," says Van der Merwe. Finding a donor organ was one of the major challenges of the study.

The planning and preparation for the study started in 2010. After extensive research Van der Merwe and his surgical team decided to employ some parts of the model and techniques developed for the first facial transplant.

"We used the same type of microscopic surgery to connect small blood vessels and nerves, and the psychological evaluation of patients was also similar. The procedure has to be sustainable and has to work in our environment at Tygerberg," says Van der Merwe.

This procedure could eventually also be extended to men who have lost their penises from penile cancer or as a last-resort treatment for severe erectile dysfunction due to medication side effects. As part of the study, nine more patients will receive penile transplants.

Media enquiries

Mandi Barnard
Marketing Coordinator
+27 (0)21 938 9505
+27 (0)82 573 4477
Marketing and Communication Office
Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
Stellenbosch University

Prof André van der Merwe
Head of the Division of Urology
Department of Surgical Sciences
Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
Stellenbosch University

All information available on #transplantSU



KathyKathy2015-03-14T22:16:13ZAwill, if you are South African you will know that these teens are taken to their rural traditional lands. They go through a initiation to become a man which culminates in the circumcision which is usually done by a traditional leader of sorts. This person has no medical training as such except performing such procedures. Times have changed, yes traditional practices should be upheld but the last part (circumcision) should be done in a sterile environment. Not far away in the middle of the bush.
EvelynEvelyn2015-03-15T03:03:08ZSO all of these penis amputations are the result of bad circumcisions.... Am I the only one who sees a simple solution here?
Dr Kevwe OgidigbenDr Kevwe Ogidigben2015-03-15T17:52:46ZJust amazing. Urology in conjunction with vascular surgery have taken the practice beyond Kidney transplants and this time, in conjunction with plastic, penile transplant is the emergent discovery. Exciting to know that Africa is at the forefront. At the end of the study, I am certain that standard guidelines will be developed, lest men with severe body dysmorphic psychiatric ailments abuse the procedure. Was glad when I was reading through and saw how Prof Merwe stated indications for the procedure. Kudos to the team. Very impressive.
Faculty of Medicine & Health SciencesFaculty of Medicine & Health Sciences2015-03-16T08:13:36ZMax, please direct your question to
Rev. Tom J. ObengoRev. Tom J. Obengo2015-03-17T15:46:27ZUniversity of Stellenbosch continues to inspire the rest! This is going to be a milestone in the treatment of persons with certain challenges in penile diseases that cause much physical and psychological suffering. It fulfils one of the chief goals of medical science: to seek to alleviate physical human suffering that is caused by either disease or accident. God bless you for achieving this fete.
ZimasaZimasa2015-03-19T10:53:58ZWow great work to all the mulltidisciplinary team! There's nothing wrong with circumcision whether it's traditional or medical as it has an impact on reduction of some leading STI's but it's just a matter of know-how to do it.
Sipho HeroldSipho Herold2015-03-20T10:19:42ZThis is an excellent milestone, well done to the team
daviddavid2015-11-06T23:56:24Zits great news that there is a solution for guys who lost their penis its can change thier life great work i hope someone will find a solution to my problem i suffer from micropenis im almost 17 my penis didnt grow from age 6 im adult man with penis of a size of a little child there is any hope in the future that surgery will help micropenis suffer to have regular sex life i hope for that kind of news
ric wilbanksric wilbanks2015-03-13T19:26:15Zi want to see it from beginning to end i dont believe it
Christa RobinsonChrista Robinson2015-03-13T23:27:45ZWOW!!! Amazing Work!
MaxMax2015-03-14T00:17:46ZIs it costly? How costly?
Akhona MacalaAkhona Macala2015-03-14T07:24:06ZNow , we very proud to be South Africans. Our own Tygerburg Hospital is making us to be very proud . South Africa is on records for many things. We have history for our great grand children. As a rainbow nation, as South Africans, we can do more. We can be the ones who find a cure for AIDs who knows .
Ralph cooperRalph cooper2015-03-14T15:48:24ZWhat amazes me is that all these problems are being caused by the unnecessary butchery of circumcision in the first place. You should educate the people that this is a barbaric practise in the first place and eliminate the need for so many of these type of surgeries .
RubyRuby2015-03-14T16:32:42ZCircumcision - not a good thing.
Kabo ijaneKabo ijane2015-03-14T18:30:47ZNo words to express this This is the real good story Only if this pockets of excellence can be connected into one world class health services! Which I believe we can achieve
DomenicoDomenico2015-03-14T19:41:24Zreally compliments, you have written an important page in history of Medicine.
Yusuf Philemon Tagwai (18155545-2015)Yusuf Philemon Tagwai (18155545-2015)2015-05-05T19:55:55ZI said it before, Stellenbosch University will already a household name among World Class Universities, sooner than later its going to be S.U all the way!
Zimisele StebisaZimisele Stebisa2015-05-06T00:55:27ZGreat achievement for the world to see.Dignity to some men will be restored.THANK YOU SUN.
awillawill2015-03-13T18:48:29ZWhat are health care professionals doing to stop the shoddy circumcisions? Seems a better path to take than one of taking immusuppressive drugs the rest of your life.