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Skin cells from infertile men transformed into early-stage sperm

06 May 2014

By Siobhan Chan

Appeared in BioNews 752

Skin tissue from infertile men has been converted into sperm cell precursors after their stem cells were transplanted into mice.

This novel way of creating sperm cells could bring about new therapies for male infertility, which is thought to be the problem in roughly half of couples who have trouble conceiving.

'This research provides an exciting and important step for the promise of stem cell therapy in the treatment of azoospermia, the most severe form of male factor infertility', said Dr Michael Eisenberg, director of male reproductive medicine at Stanford University, where the study was conducted. 'Being able to efficiently convert skin cells into sperm would allow this group to become biologic fathers'.

The research looked at men with a condition known as azoospermia, who were unable to produce healthy mature sperm due to missing genes on their Y chromosomes.

The team took skin samples from five men, three of whom had azoospermia and two of whom were fertile. They transformed them into induced pluripotent stem cells, and when these were transplanted into mouse testes, they developed into early-stage sperm cells. These may have become fully mature sperm cells if the stem cells had been transplanted into the men's testes, the researchers believe.

'We saw better germ-cell differentiation in this transplantation model than we've ever seen', said Dr Renee Reijo Pera, who led the study. 'We were amazed by the efficiency. Our dream is to use this model to make a genetic map of human germ-cell differentiation, including some of the very earliest stages'.

Dr Allan Pacey from the University of Sheffield commented to the Telegraph: 'The received wisdom is that if you have a Y chromosome defect like this you don't make sperm. Until I read this paper I would have said if you take skin cells from an infertile guy it won't work. But what this seems to suggest is that it could'.

Warning that sons born using such a procedure would be at risk of inheriting infertility, Dr Pacey added: 'Obviously the outcome is poorer than if you don't have the defect, but the fact that they could do this at all is quite exciting. At the moment the door is closed to these men'.

Azoospermia is thought to affect one percent of men worldwide, but the team hopes that other men affected by infertility could one day be treated using this technique.

'[This study] provides very intriguing possibilities for men rendered sterile after cancer treatments', said Dr Eisenberg. 'Infertility is one of the most common and devastating complications of cancer treatments, especially for young boys and men'.


21 August 2017 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
Cells from genetically infertile male mice have been turned into sperm, and used to produce healthy pups...
29 February 2016 - by Helen Robertson 
Scientists in China have used stem cells to create rudimentary sperm that successfully fertilised mouse eggs to produce healthy offspring...
14 December 2015 - by Ayala Ochert 
Men who have been diagnosed with infertility have a higher risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as other general health problems, including alcohol abuse and drug abuse...
18 May 2015 - by Lubna Ahmed 
A French company claims to have grown human sperm cells in a laboratory for the first time....
15 December 2014 - by Dr Rachel Brown 
Men with poor semen quality are more likely to also suffer from unrelated health problems, such as hypertension, a study suggests...

05 November 2012 - by Dr Greg Ball 
Banked sperm-producing stem cells have been used to restore sperm production in monkeys made infertile by chemotherapy treatment...
03 September 2012 - by Dr Linda Wijlaars 
Stem cells found in human skin can be turned into sperm precursor cells, US researchers have found. The findings could help restore fertility to cancer patients, and could provide a new way of studying the development of sperm cells in the lab...
31 January 2012 - by Dr Sophie Pryor 
The development of world's first artificial testicle for production of human sperm has been given the go ahead...
17 July 2006 - by Heidi Nicholl 
Scientists have for the first time managed to create sperm from mouse stem cells capable of fertilising eggs and resulting in live births. A team led by Professor Karim Nayernia, now Professor of Stem Cell Biology at Newcastle University, began with mouse embryonic stem cells (ES cells)which...

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