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Act now to investigate male infertility, urges expert

16 October 2017

By Annabel Slater

Appeared in BioNews 922

An expert in male fertility has called for urgent research into the stark decline reported in Western sperm counts (see BioNews 911).

Lifestyle factors, exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals, disruption of fetal testes development, and trends in testicular cancer are four potential areas of research, said the expert in an editorial to the BMJ.

'Medical researchers cannot do it alone,' said Niels Skakkebaek, a professor of paediatric endrocrinology and andrology at the University of Copenhagen, and author of the editorial. 'We need health and research authorities that can see the urgent need for research in reproductive medicine, not just more infertility treatments, which are a short term solution for individuals not for the fertility of future generations.'

Earlier this year, a meta-analysis concluded that Western sperm counts had fallen by 52 percent between 1973 and 2011.

'Simple research questions urgently need answers,' the professor said.

He suggested the decline in sperm counts should be compared to trends in testicular cancer, as countries with a high incidence of this cancer also appear to report lower semen quality. Saying that rates in testicular cancer have more than doubled in recent decades, and increasingly in young men of reproductive age, this 'leaves little doubt that we should look into environmental causes – including lifestyle effects. Alterations in our genome cannot explain the observations as changes have occurred over just a couple of generations.'

Professor Skakkebaek also called for research into the impact of hormone-disrupting chemicals, such as pesticides, and maternal exposure could be linked to testicular dysgenesis syndrome, a male reproductive condition caused by disrupted testes development in the fetus. The professor first described this condition in 2001. Finally, he also questioned if decline in sperm could be correlated to lifestyle factors, including recreational drug use.

'Should we be worried about our future ability to reproduce ourselves, as some media coverage has claimed?' he asked.

'This inconvenient question makes sense when we look at what is going on in fertility clinics all over the world - more and more children are now born after in vitro fertilisation, intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), and insemination with partner or donor sperm.'

Professor Skakkebaek pointed out that despite the increase in live births from fertility treatment, fertility rates in many countries including Germany, Japan and Singapore remain well below the average of 2.1 children per woman. He also suggested use of ICSI may produce new generations with lower sperm counts (see BioNews 872).

Professor Allan Pacey of the University of Sheffield disagreed that increased use of assisted reproduction facilities or donor sperm were indicators of a male reproductive health problem, saying instead ‘this simply reflects changes in society brought about through economic development and social choice by couples about how many children to have and when to have them.'

However, he agreed that the increase in rates of testicular cancer as 'worthy of further investigation and is the most convincing argument I have heard for why we should be concerned.'

'These are indications of serious threats to male health in terms of infertility and male cancers. We must take notice and act to source the dangers and safeguard our mens' health,' said Sheena Lewis, emeritus professor of reproductive medicine at Queen’s University Belfast.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
West Sussex County Times | 11 October 2017
 
Medical Xpress | 10 October 2017
 
Medpage Today | 10 October 2017
 
BMJ | 10 October 2017
 
Medscape | 10 October 2017
 

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

06 November 2017 - by Lea Goetz 
Men with infertility experience stigmatisation and a lack of support, a first survey on the subject found...
23 October 2017 - by Taqdeer Sidhu 
Sleep duration is associated with sperm integrity, according to a recent study in China...

25 September 2017 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
Men with obesity are more likely to have a poorer quality and quantity of sperm than men of a healthier weight, suggests a new study...
18 September 2017 - by Dr Kimberley Bryon-Dodd 
A type of chemical found in various personal beauty products and plastics may affect sperm and lower reproductive success, according to a new study...
14 August 2017 - by Professor Allan Pacey 
Twenty-five years ago, I recall sitting in a journal club in which the collective minds tore apart the then recently published (and still much quoted) meta-analysis by Elizabeth Carlsen, 'Evidence for decreasing quality of semen during past 50 years'. This BMJ paper made the headlines in 1992...
31 July 2017 - by Dr Katie Howe 
Sperm counts of men in developed nations have fallen by 52 percent in the last 40 years...

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Published by the Progress Educational Trust

CROSSING FRONTIERS

Public Conference
London
8 December 2017

Speakers include

Professor Azim Surani

Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge

Sally Cheshire

Professor Guido Pennings

Katherine Littler

Professor Allan Pacey

Dr Sue Avery

Professor Richard Anderson

Dr Elizabeth Garner

Dr Andy Greenfield

Dr Anna Smajdor

Dr Henry Malter

Vivienne Parry

Dr Helen O'Neill

Dr César Palacios-González

Philippa Taylor

Fiona Fox

Sarah Norcross

Sandy Starr


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