A research team from Queen's University in Canada, led by Richard Oko, has indentified a method of inducing fertilization using a synthetic version of the protein PAWP found in sperm cells. Their findings could circumvent the problem for men whose sperm is unable to initiate the fertilization process.
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"PAWP is able to induce embryo development in human eggs in a fashion similar to the natural triggering of embryo development by the sperm cell during fertilization," says Dr. Oko of the Biomedical and Molecular Sciences department. "Based on our findings, we envision that physicians will be able to improve their diagnosis and treatment of infertility, a problem that affects 10 to 15 per cent of couples worldwide."
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Until now, most infertility treatments resort to injecting a single sperm into an egg cell, although fueling sperm with PAWP could lead to new developments by easing the natural process or ruling out the problem of sperm-egg incompatibility.
"The results of our study set the stage for further investigation of PAWP protein as a molecular marker for diagnosis and as a factor for improvement of infertility treatments," says Dr. Oko.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2013 Annual Report on Assisted Reproductive Technologies, success rates for treatment are a disappointing 37%.
Researchers involved in the Queen's University study believe sperm cells' inability to initiate fertilization and trigger embryo development upon entering the egg account for much of the failure in ART and are hopeful their method could increase the rate of successful pregnancies.
The study was published in the journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB).