Scientists at Spain’s Valencian Infertility Institute, Spain’s first facility devoted to assisted reproduction, have created human sperm from skin cells. This medical breakthrough may one day lead to the treatment of fertility. About 15% of couples in the world have fertility issues. So far, their only options are donated eggs and sperm, surrogacy or adoption.
What to do when someone who wants to have a child lacks gametes (egg or sperm)? This is the problem we want to address: to be able to create gametes in people who do not have them.
The team was inspired by Nobel prize-winning scientists, Japan’s Shinya Yamanaka and Great Britain’s John Gordon. In 2012, they shared the Nobel for their discovery that adult cells can be transformed back into embryo-like stem cells. Now they wanted to take this research a step further.
The team added a “cocktail of genes” to skin cells, turning them into germ cells in about a month. The germ cells could eventually be developed into sperm or eggs. That was the desired outcome. However, the cells wouldn’t replicate themselves and died off.
The study states,
The reason for this is intriguing and we hypothesize that it may be due to the fact that cells within the clumps spontaneously enter into a metiotic cell cycle that results in the formation of hysploid cells that cannot be further maintained in vitro.
One reason why the cells failed to mature enough into full-fledged sperm cells may be that they cannot do this in a laboratory but may require that the germ cells be implanted into a living organism in order to develop into sperm. This may be what Chinese researchers announced this year when they had created mice from artificial sperm.
This is a sperm but it needs a further maturation phase to become a gamete. This is just the beginning.
Other issues to be addressed include the legal constraints put upon such research. Some countries prohibit the creation of artificial embryos.
With the human species we must do much more testing because we are talking about the birth of a child. We are talking about a long process.
The study adds,
The knowledge obtained from this work can be used to create in vitro models to study gamete-related diseases in humans.
There’s more work to be done.