Sperm Made in a Petri-Dish?

By Y tambe (Y tambe's file) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by

A team of scientists in China have finally successfully succeeded in creating functional sperm from mice in a laboratory. To accomplish this goal, the team coaxed mouse embryonic cells to turn into functional sperm-like cells, which were then injected into egg cells to create fertile mouse offspring. The work was reported in the February 25th, 2016 edition of Stem Cell, and it provides a platform for generating sperm cells that may one day be used to treat human infertility in males.

The Study

Co-senior study author, Jiahao Sha of Nanjing Medical University states, “Reproducing germ cell development in vitro has remained a central goal in both reproductive technology and reproductive medicine. We established a robust, stepwise approach that recapitulates the formation of functional sperm-like cells in a dish. Our method fully complies with the gold standards recently proposed by a consensus panel of reproductive biologists, so we think that it holds tremendous promise for treating male infertility.”

Infertility affects up to 15% of couples and about 1/3 of cases can be linked to males. One of the most common causes of male infertility is precursor germ cells in the testes failing to undergo meiosis, the process in which they would become functional sperm cells. Several studies have reported successful generation of germ cells from stem cells, but they didn’t fully evaluate the functionality of the germ cells or provide proof for all key hallmarks of meiosis.

Recently, a panel of reproductive specialists proposed standard criteria to prove the major events of meiosis have taken place in engineered germ cells. To overcome the hurdles, Dr. Sha teamed up with co-senior study authors Qi Zhou and Xiao-Yang Zhao from the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences to develop a method using stem-cells that would fully recapitulate meiosis and produce functional sperm-like cells.

The first step was to expose mouse embryonic cells to a chemical cocktail that coaxed embryonic stem cells to turn into primordial germ cells. Next, the team mimicked the natural tissue environment of the precursor germ cells by exposing them to testicular cells and testosterone.

In future studies, the research team plans on using their platform to study the molecular mechanisms that control meiosis. They will also test their approach in other animals such as primates. However, before the new technique can be translated to a clinic, possible risks must be ruled out and any ethical concerns regarding the use of embryonic cells must be addressed.


Dr. Sha said, “If proven to be safe and effective in humans, our platform could potentially generate fully functional sperm for artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization techniques. Because currently available treatments do not work for many couples, we hope that our approach could substantially improve success rates for male infertility.”


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