In what has been heralded as a breakthrough for infertility treatment, scientists have apparently created human sperm in a lab for the first time. If confirmed, the research could one day allow infertile men to have their own biological children.
Startup biotechnology company Kallistem in Lyon, France, revealed the breakthrough earlier this year, but now have taken out a patent describing the technique, in tandem with the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). It involves using tissue that produces sperm in testicles, known as seminiferous tubules, and “coaxing” it to produce mature sperm cells in a 72-day process, according to New Scientist.
In this case, the tissue specimens were collected from infertile men, showing that such tissue could be made to produce sperm cells. The research is yet to be peer-reviewed, but was presented at a press conference in Lyon late last week. The technique is known as Artistem, and is the first time human sperm has been grown in vitro (in test tubes).
However, while the sperm has apparently been successfully created, it’s not clear how functional it is. The company said it looked “morphologically normal,” but there have been no tests into how it performs compared to regular sperm. Upcoming clinical trials in 2017 will look into this.
According to the researchers, thousands of men and even young boys rendered infertile by cancer and other diseases could benefit. “This breakthrough opens the way for therapeutic avenues that have been eagerly awaited by clinicians for many years,” said CNRS in a statement. “Indeed, no treatment is currently available to preserve the fertility of young, pre-pubertal boys undergoing gonadotoxic treatments, such as certain types of chemotherapy. Yet more than 15,000 young cancer patients are affected throughout the world. Nor is there any solution for the 120,000 adult men who suffer from infertility that cannot be treated using existing technologies.”
Some have questioned the validity of the research, as it has yet to be peer-reviewed, so it will be interesting to see the reaction from experts when that happens. For now, most are declining to give their thoughts on the patent – but if confirmed, it could prove rather groundbreaking.