Breakthrough offers hope of finding cure for male infertility Technique offers new hope for infertile men
Scientists have created human sperm in the laboratory for the first time. The extraordinary development, which until a few years ago belonged in the realms of science fiction, raises hopes that infertile men may one day be able to father their own biological children.
The sperm were created in a test tube, from stem cells derived from a five-day-old male embryo. The advance raises ethical questions over the safety of the procedure and the threat it poses to the future role of men. It was also challenged by experts who claimed the sperm-like cells produced in the experiment were not genuine sperm.
If the finding is confirmed, a single male embryo could, in theory, yield a stem-cell line which when stored could provide an unlimited supply of sperm. Once the stem-cell line was established, there would be no further reproductive need for men. In a briefing on the research, the scientists at Newcastle University and the NorthEast England Stem Cell Institute, led by Professor Karim Nayernia, raise the question of whether their discovery means "the end of men".
They point out that the stem cells from which the sperm were made could only be derived from a male embryo - one containing a Y (male) chromosome - so at least one male would be required.
"However, researchers believe that the issue does need to be debated and legislated for," they said. "As work progresses and results improve at Newcastle and elsewhere it may, in theory, be possible to develop sperm from embryonic stem cell lines which have been stored."
Professor Nayernia said:"In theory it would be possible [to dispense with men], but only if you want to produce a population all the same size and shape [because they have the same male genetic origin]. Personally I cannot see human reproduction as purely a biological process. It has human, emotional, psychological, social and ethical aspects, too. We are doing this research to help infertile men, not to replace a reproductive procedure."
The breakthrough was achieved using stem cells derived from a human embryo which were first developed into germ line stem cells - with half the number of chromosomes - and then prompted to produce sperm which were "fully mature and functional", despite being made in a petri dish rather than the testes of a sexually mature man. The results are reported in the journal Stem Cells and Development.
In a parallel but incomplete experiment, the same group of researchers are creating stem cells out of skin cells from which they have produced sperm, with the same genetic make-up as the skin cells from which they are derived.This would allow infertile men to produce their own biological children, using only their skin cells. Professor Nayernia said the results of this research were "promising" and added: "We hope in a few months to publish that work as well."
However, efforts to …