Infertility is estimated to affect some 50 million couples worldwide, and in 40% of these cases the male is either the sole cause of the problem or a contributing factor. Low sperm counts, high percentages of abnormal sperm and poor motility can all decrease the likelihood of successfully fertilizing an egg. Around 1% of the entire male population fails to even produce any sperm, a condition known as azoospermia.
That’s why researchers have spent the last 15 years trying to create sperm in the lab, and while scientists managed the feat in mice, they have struggled to do the same for humans. But a French biotech company has now declared that they’ve finally cracked it. If so, this would certainly be a significant scientific breakthrough.
That being said, considering how huge this would be, it is suspicious that the work has not been peer-reviewed, or even published at all. Furthermore, although this could plausibly be to protect their patented technique, called “Artisem,” the researchers have failed to give up any information on how they achieved this. However, according to the Independent, their patent is due to be published on June 23, and further details will follow then. Still, skepticism has understandably flowed through the scientific community, so at this stage it is not worth getting your hopes up that the technique could solve your problems.
According to AFP, the company claiming the fame, Kallistem, announced last week that they had successfully produced fully formed human sperm cells, or spermatozoa, in the lab. Although details are extremely scant, or pretty much non-existent, they reportedly stated that they achieved this using testicular biopsies containing only immature cells, or spermatogonia, which are derived from stem cells. The resulting cells can then be frozen until the infertile patient wishes to use them, according to their statement.
“This research paves the way for innovative therapies to preserve and restore male fertility, a major issue with global impact; numbers of spermatozoa have declined by 50 percent over the last fifty years,” the company wrote. Such therapies, they say, could help around 50,000 new patients each year, creating a market worth more than $2.5 billion (£1.7 bn) annually.
Kallistem already has plans to initiate clinical trials in 2016 after completing preclinical research this year, but considering they haven’t even published their findings, this truncated timeline seems alarmingly ambitious.