Around 15% of the world’s couples experience fertility problems and are unable to have children without the donation of sperm or eggs. To help them, Spanish scientists announced an amazing medical feat. They were able to create human sperm from skin cells.
“What to do when someone who wants to have a child lacks gametes (eggs or sperm)?” asked Carlos Simon, the scientific director of the Valencian Infertility Institute. “This is the problem we want to address: to be able to create gametes in people who do not have them.”
The solution devised by Simon and his colleagues was to use a cocktail of genes that reprogrammed mature skin cells. It took a month for the skin cell to be transformed into a germ cell which could become either a sperm or an egg, but couldn’t be fertilized.
“This is a sperm but it needs a further maturation phase to become a gamete. This is just the beginning,” said Simon.
The work of the Spanish researchers built upon previous studies by Japanese and British scientists who won a Nobel Prize for discovering that adult cells could be transformed back into embryo-like stem cells. It also one ups Chinese researchers who earlier in 2016 created mice from artificial sperm. It’s a brave new world for sperm research.
The scientists estimate that in the USA alone, there are around 220,000 men and 290,000 women between 20-44 who lack the necessary gametes to produce children. As their paper says: “Although donation of gametes results in high pregnancy rates, there are ethical, legal and personal concerns associated with this technique. Thus, there is an increasing interest in the search for alternatives to generate autologous germ cells in vitro.”
The study was carried out with Stanford University and published in Scientific Reports, the online journal of Nature.