Mouse Sperm Grown In A Petri Dish, Again
January 3, 2012

Mouse Sperm Grown In A Petri Dish, Again

Just months after Japanese fertility scientists created artificial sperm from stem cells to make baby mice, German and Israeli researchers are making a major breakthrough of their own that could soon see human sperm grown in the laboratory.

The development could soon give infertile men the ability to father their own children rather than relying on donor sperm from another man.

The research team, led by Professor Stefan Schlatt, at Muenster University in Germany, were able to grow sperm using germ cells -- the cells in testicles that are responsible for sperm production. The team grew the sperm by surrounding the germ cells in a special compound called agar jelly to create an environment similar to that found in testicles.

“I believe it will eventually be possible to routinely grow human male sperm to order by extracting tissue containing germ cells from a man's testicle and stimulating sperm production in the laboratory,” Professor Mahmoud Huleihel, who also grew the sperm at Israel´s Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, told a Telegraph reporter.

As reported in August 2011, Japanese researchers, led by Dr. Katsuhiko Hayashi and Mitinori Saitou at Kyoto University, were able to grow mice after they injected artificial sperm into mouse eggs and then implanted them into female mice. The mother gave birth to healthy pups, which in turn grew up and were capable of reproducing naturally, according to their study published in the journal Cell.

Previous to that research, all attempts to create sperm from embryonic stem cells were unsuccessful, and, in most cases, led to unhealthy offspring which died soon after birth.

The new sperm trial findings, revealed in the Asian Journal of Andrology -- a major scientific journal published by Nature, give researchers hope that it will lead to human sperm being able to be grown outside of a man´s body.

Stephen Gordon, a male infertility consultant with the National Health Service (NHS), said the findings are an important breakthrough.

“This is an amazing development that could revolutionize fertility treatment and allow every man to be a natural father,” he told The Telegraph. “Infertile men naturally want to be the father of their child but at present have to accept that can't happen. With the mouse discovery, that could now be a possibility.”

“This is a significant step forward towards making human sperm,” added Professor Richard Sharpe, one of the UK´s top fertility scientists, based at Edinburgh University, who hopes to work on the project.

Male infertility has grown over the past 50 years and has been matched by huge decreases in sperm counts in men.

Huleihel said he and his team are working “as quickly as possible” to reproduce their success in mice to help infertile men. “We have already applied the same tests as we did with mice in the laboratory, using human cells, but as yet have not had success. We are confident that if it can be done in a mammal such as a mouse it can be done in humans,” he said.

“We are experimenting with a number of different compounds to get the germ cells to grow into sperm. And we believe it will be possible. And, hopefully, soon,” added Huleihel.

“It has taken us several years to reach this stage so a technique to create human sperm won´t come overnight but we have started that research already after our success with mice,” said Huleihel to the Telegraph.

The research team at Ben Gurion University said they are going to discuss the human sperm possibilities with Sharpe at Edinburgh University.

“What this research shows is that it will be possible to make human sperm outside the body. The germ cells just need the right environment. That's the tricky part getting them to think they are in the testes,” said Sharpe.

Sharpe believes there is one novel way that could make it possible. He proposes using a live mouse as a ℠host´ to make human sperm.

“What you would do is take some human testicular tissue with germ cells and place that under the skin of the mouse and use it to incubate the cells,” explained Sharpe. “You could then extract any sperm and use it in fertility treatment. But we would have to demonstrate that there were no mouse cells present in the extracted sperm if we were to use this technique and I believe that's possible.”

“Hundreds of millions have been poured into research into female infertility but research into male infertility attracts relatively little interest,” added Gordon, who treats infertile men at the private New Life Clinic. “There will be a lot of infertile men hoping this research succeeds and that in future they won´t have to rely on a sperm donor to have child.”

Licensing and government approval would be mandatory before artificially grown human sperm could be used in any fertility treatments, but researchers believe this hurdle will be overcome.

“The main thing that would have to be proved is that the sperm was not genetically damaged and was the same as sperm produced in the testes. Similar checks are already carried out on eggs and embryos used in women´s fertility treatment,” said Sharpe.


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