July 19th, 2016
A team of Chinese investigators at Nanjing Medical University in China claimed earlier this year that soon scientists will be able to create babies without needing men. In other words, lab-prepared sperms will be available for artificial insemination procedures for couples with fertility issues. This news is also a ray of hope for many single women who will be able to have an offspring without engaging with a male partner.
According to a new study reported in the Cell Stem Cell, scientists have successfully produced healthy and fertile mouse babies with the help of artificial laboratory-prepared sperms (1). According to the Chinese scientist and lead investigator Dr Jiahao Sha, this technique will bring new techniques to treat the male infertility. The embryonic stem cells produced are actually “spermatids” i.e. a sperm without a tail. These spermatids can be introduced in the egg in a similar fashion as that of IVF technique (called intracytoplasmic sperm injection) to producing healthy babies of mouse (since spermatids are unable to swim without a tail).
The team of investigators explained the procedure in the report according to which, the stem cells taken from the embryo were exposed to mixture of chemicals as part of the technique. The exposure to chemical triggered the conversion of stem cells into the primordial germ cells; thereby leading to the development of sperm cells. In order to produce the peculiar environment of testes, these germ cells were exposed to testosterone and testicular cells. Once spermatids were produced, they were injected into egg cells, leading to development of a normal embryo.
A similar stem cell technique was used to produce germ cells of mouse in the year 2011 by a group of Japanese scientists (2). Although they were successful in producing the functional sperms, the study had a limitation. The maturation of sperms required injection into the male testicles.
In 2014, a criteria was set to produce artificial sperm cells in the laboratory, which proved that the artificial sperms created by Chinese scientists fits the gold-standard criteria of artificial sperm cells (3).
Germ cell development is a hot topic these days and many researchers and investigators are working to develop the most reliable, accurate and functional artificial sperm. A French research team has just obtained a patent to protect their technique of preparing the viable human sperm in a dish. However, the details of the technique and outcome are not yet available for peer review (4).
If this technique passes the human trial successfully, it may become a promising platform for all the couples who face issues in conception due to male infertility. The scientists of United Kingdom appreciated this achievement but expressed their concerns that applying this technique in humans won’t be as easy and it will take a lot to make it into a successful treatment option because the technique involves DNA formatting and one wrong step can affect the whole new generation (3).
1. Wang, H., Xiang, J., Zhang, W., Li, J., Wei, Q., Zhong, L., … & Han, J. (2016). Induction of Germ Cell-like Cells from Porcine Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells. Scientific reports, 6, 27256.
2. Hayashi, K., Ohta, H., Kurimoto, K., Aramaki, S., & Saitou, M. (2011). Reconstitution of the mouse germ cell specification pathway in culture by pluripotent stem cells. Cell, 146(4), 519-532.
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