Sperm grown in lab

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 Stefan Schlatt, 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.

Male infertility
The development opens up the possibility of infertile men being able to father their own children rather than using donor sperm. Prof. Mahmoud Huleihel, 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."

Sperm grown outside body
The scientists who made the discovery have begun experiments that will hopefully lead to the 'Holy Grail' - human sperm grown outside a man's body.


Stephen Gordon, a leading NHS male infertility consultant, praised the breakthrough. He said: "This is an amazing development that could revolutionise fertility treatment and allow every man to be a natural father. "Infertile men naturally want to be the father of their child but at present have to accept that can't happen."

Professor Richard Sharpe, 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 towards making human sperm."

Growing infertility
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.

Human tests
Professor Huleihel said his team were now working to reproduce their success in mice to help infertile men. "We have already applied the same tests as we did with mice in the laboratory, using human cells, but as yet have not had success. We are confident that if it can be done in a mammal such as a mouse it can be done in humans. "We are experimenting with a number of different compounds to get the germ cells to grow into sperm. And we believe it will be possible. And, hopefully, soon."

"It has taken us several years to reach this stage so a technique to create human sperm won't come overnight."  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

Mouse host
Professor Sharpe proposes using a live mouse as a 'host' to make human sperm. He said: "What you would do is take some human testicular tissue with germ cells and place that under the skin of the mouse and use it to incubate the cells. "You could then extract any sperm and use it in fertility treatment. But we would have to demonstrate that there were no mouse cells present in the extracted sperm if we were to use this technique and I believe that's possible."

Before human sperm grown in a laboratory could be used in fertility treatment it would have to be licensed. But researchers believe that this hurdle will be overcome.

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