Stem Cells Could Spell the End of Male Infertility
Scientists have started to explore ways to create sperm by using stem cells, providing hope for infertile men who wish to father their own children.
As the hype and science surrounding the potential uses of stem cells continue to grow, scientists have started to explore yet another life-changing – and life-starting – application for these seemingly miraculous cells. Researchers are tackling the problem of male infertility by attempting to use stem cells to create mature, effective sperm that would allow infertile men to conceive.
Dr. Karim Nayernia, a professor of stem biology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, is currently researching ways to turn human stem cells harvested from adult bone marrow into sperm cells. If he and his colleagues do indeed find a way to turn adult stem cells into viable sperm cells, the sperm would be introduced into the testes.
In July 2006, Dr. Nayernia reported that he and his team had successfully coaxed the embryonic stem cells of mice into becoming mature sperm. This sperm was successfully used to fertilize eggs, resulting in the live birth of seven mice. While six of the seven mice survived to adulthood, each mouse exhibited some variety of abnormal development, such as stunted growth and difficulty walking.
More recently, Dr. Nayernia has focused his research on the development of sperm cells from adult stem cells found in the bone marrow tissue of rats, rather than from embryonic stem cells. Dr. Nayernia and his team were able to cause the adult stem cells to undergo the first two of the three divisions required for these cells to become sperm cells.
While his team's inability to turn adult rat stem cells into fully mature sperm has solicited criticism and caution from the scientific community, Dr. Nayernia has proceeded to experiment with samples of stem cells taken from the bone marrow of human males.
The scientists added both vitamin A and proteins (both of which purportedly encourage the development of sperm) to the adult stem cells. The procedure showed promise as the human stem cells began to develop into sperm; however, these developing stem cells never reached full maturity.
While success with human adult stem cells has remained elusive, Dr. Nayernia remains optimistic about the culmination of his research with stem cells, embryonic and adult, mouse and human. He believes that the ability to use human adult stem cells to grow mature sperm and implant them into the infertile male's testes is no more than five years away.
"If we understand this we can treat infertility in men," Nayernia said.
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