MUNICH – Scientists are able to grow sperm in a laboratory dish. Could this make men obsolete?
Some say that this development opens up the possibility of infertile men being able to father their own children rather than using donor sperm. Others say that now women can survive on the planet without men.
It started when researchers in Germany and Israel were able to grow mouse sperm from a few cells in a laboratory dish.
In a world first a team headed by Professor Roger Schott, at Muenster University in Germany, were able to grow sperm by using germ cells. These are the cells in testicles that are responsible for sperm production.
Scientists grew the sperm by surrounding the germ cells in a special compound called agar jelly to create an environment similar to that found in testicles.
Prof. Mahmoud Kessana, who also grew the sperm at Israel’s Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, said: “I believe it will eventually be possible to routinely grow human male sperm to order by extracting tissue containing germ cells from a man’s testicle and stimulating sperm production in the laboratory.”The findings of the sperm trial have been revealed in a major scientific journal published by Nature.
The scientists then began experiments to grow human sperm grown outside a man’s body and… it worked!
Alvin Hartgers, a leading NHS male infertility consultant, praised the breakthrough. “This is an amazing development that will revolutionize fertility treatment and allow every man to be a natural father. And if a woman doesn’t want a man in her life, but wants a baby… well, they can do that much easier now.”
Professor Stephen Sharpton, one of the UK’s top fertility scientists, based at Edinburgh University, who hopes to work on the project, said: “This is a significant step forward in the evolution of man.”
The problem of male infertility has grown over the last 50 years and has been matched by huge decrease in sperm counts in men. Some of this has been attributed to environmental factors such as pollution and female hormones appearing in plastic packaging.
Mr Sharpton, a urologist, said: “There are thousands of men – who are otherwise healthy – who can’t naturally father babies and rely on sperm donation. Now, they can come to my lab and get some sperm.”
Professor Huleihel said his team were now working ‘as quickly as possible’ to reproduce their success in mice to help infertile men.
The sperm production breakthrough is reported in the Asian Journal of Andrology this month.
Professor Kessana added: “We were able to produce viable sperm. The sperm appeared healthy and were not genetically damaged.
Professor Sharpe said: “What this research shows is that it will be possible to make human sperm outside the body. The germ cells just need the right environment. That’s the tricky part getting them to think they are in the testes
Mr Sharpton, who also treats infertile men at the private New Life Clinic, said: “Hundreds of millions have been poured into research into female infertility but research into male infertility attracted relatively little interest. We did it on a shoestring budget, but we did it.”
Human sperm grown in a laboratory will have to be licensed. And British and American governments are trying to figure out how to regulate sperm production.
But researchers like Professor Sharpton believes that this hurdle will be overcome quickly.
He said: “The main thing that would have to be proved is that the sperm was not genetically damaged and was the same as sperm produced in the testes. Similar checks are already carried out on eggs and embryos used in women’s fertility treatment.”
If scientists produced enough sperm in laboratories to create generations of humans, will men become less significant… go extinct?