Researchers from The University of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine have successfully grown early-stage sperm from human skin tissue. The discovery could potentially aid thousands of infertile males, including survivors of childhood cancer to accomplish their dream of fatherhood. About one in six couples has problems starting a family and in forty percent of cases, male infertility is to blame.
In up to a third of these cases, no one knows what exactly is going wrong. Using sperm that is grown from splinters of the skin could one day allow infertile men to father children that are genetically their own. The US research team used a concoction of chemicals to reverse the biological clock in skin cells, turning them into cells with the chameleon-like powers of embryonic stem cells.
Then they used an amalgamation of nutrients to wheedle them to developing into round cells which were just a few steps away from mature sperm and seemed genetically normal. Lead researcher Dr James Easley, believe they have cracked the most difficult part of sperm development.
This means that by tweaking the process it should now be relatively easy to get to the next stage that is elongated cells, while yet to grow tails that should be able to fertilize eggs. By unfastening the ins and outs of male reproduction, the breakthrough could also lead to new contraceptives to treat infertility.
The technique is still many years away from use in clinics. Previously, fertility experts have succeeded in coaxing embryonic stem cells so called the master cells plucked from embryos in their first days of life and turning them into sperm. But using skin as a starting point would be more ethically acceptable. It would also mean the sperm would have the man’s genes.
The study was published in the journal Cell Reports.