In an important breakthrough for male fertility scientists have announced that for the first time they have been able grow sperm in the laboratory using parent germ cells.
So far this has only been done with mice cells but scientists, despite setbacks, are confident that they will eventually be able to help men who wish to father children but, for one reason or another, are currently incapable and must rely on sperm donation.
Researchers in Germany and Israel were able to grow mouse sperm from a few cells in a laboratory dish.
In a world first a team headed by Professor Stefan Schlatt, at Muenster University in Germany, were able to grow sperm by using germ cells. These are the cells in testicles that are responsible for sperm production.
Prof. Mahmoud Huleihel, who also grew the sperm at Israel’s Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, said: “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.”
In order to grow the sperm the scientists attempted to ensure they had created conditions that were as close as possible to those found in the testicles. To achieve this the extracted germ cells were surrounded by an agar jelly and grown at a temperature just below that of the normal body temperature of humans.
Scientists must now attempt to kindle the growth of human sperm from human germ cells, and professors Schlatt and Huleihel are quoted as saying they wish to achieve this “as quickly as possible.”
While Huleihel noted that such attempts have, to date, been unsuccessful, research teams are now 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.”
The work carried out by the research group has received high praise from a number of fertility experts who say that while there has been a great deal of research into female infertility, there has been little advancement on male fertility issues despite a known reduction in overall male fertility over the passed 50 years.
The reduction in male fertility has been put down to a variety of causes, including environmental factors like pollution and female hormones found in some plastic packing.