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New Lab Grown Sperm Could Treat Male Infertility


The cure to male infertility may have been found with the creation of the first in vitro sperm by scientists in Japan. This new scientific breakthrough could drastically impact the way that men with low sperm counts or abnormal sperm are treated.

Healthy offspring possible from sperm grown in the lab

The sperm created by researchers at Yokohama City University in Japan were able to fertilize an egg and produce normal, healthy offspring. This feat was previously thought to be impossible as scientists have tried and failed this experiment for over 100 years.

"The report is quite exciting because it represents the fulfillment of a goal held by many reproductive biologists over many years," says Mary Ann Handel, an expert in reproductive genetics at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Using testicular tissue from mice, the scientists were able to grow sperm cells (a process called spermatogenesis) by bathing them in a special cell culture formula. The process was successful with both fresh and frozen tissue samples. Although spermatogenesis is complicated and lengthy, researchers believe that it could be replicated in other mammalian species, including humans.

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Sperm and Male Infertility

Male infertility accounts for approximately one-third of all infertility cases. In many cases, due to a varicocele or other factors such as chemotherapy, a man may have a low sperm count or anomalies in the sperm which prevent fertilization of a partner's egg. Depending on the cause of the problem, current infertility treatment options may or may not be a viable option for these men. In many cases the only option for these men is to use donor sperm, meaning that his resulting child will not have any genetic relationship with him.

The ability for infertility physicians to be able to offer infertile men the option to create viable and healthy sperm using their own cells would be a major breakthrough in the field of reproductive medicine. It would essentially allow infertile men to produce genetic offspring that they would not otherwise be able to have.

Health Day reported that another potential group which could benefit from this technology is boys who undergo chemotherapy due to childhood cancer. Chemotherapy can affect the sperm production of boys, sometimes permanently. If these boys are too young to make sperm to freeze for later use then testicular tissue samples could be taken and saved for the creation of sperm in the lab. "Years later, grown sperm in the laboratory could allow them to have children that were genetically theirs," Dr. Allan Pacey from the University of Sheffield in England remarked about this procedures potential.

Image Source: Wikicommons
Resource: Takuya, Sato, et. al.; In vitro production of functional sperm in cultured neonatal mouse testes, Nature; 471, 504–507, (24 March 2011)

Updated 5/19/2014