Men with fertility problems can rejoice. A new study has given hope that, one day, it could be possible to grow a new sperm from an individual’s skill cells. A team of researchers has made this possible by growing human gametes (germ cells) in a lab. Scientists in Spain used a cocktail of genes to turn human skin cells into germ cells, which can eventually be developed into sperm or eggs.
Researcher Carlos Simon from the Valencian Infertility Institute said, “What to do when someone who wants to have a child lacks gametes (eggs or sperm)? This is the problem we want to address: to be able to create gametes in people who do not have them.”
The team says they were inspired by the Nobel Prize-winning work of Japan’s Shinya Yamanaka and Britain’s John Gordon back in 2012. The pair had discovered that mature, adult cells could be turned into any other type of tissue.
In their experiment, the team added a cocktail of genes to skin cells, which then took about a month to turn into the germ cells. While the germ cells could be developed into sperm, it wouldn’t have the ability to fertilise, because a further mutation phase is required to create a gamete, Simon says.
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“With the human species we must do much more testing because we are talking about the birth of child,” he explains. “We are talking about a long process.”
Earlier this year, Chinese researchers used ‘test-tube’ sperm cells to fertilise mouse eggs. Healthy mouse offspring were produced using the technique, but doing the same using human embryos represents a whole new level of complexity.
The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.