New Breakthrough For Fertility Studies: Functioning Sperm Grown in Lab

By Emily Murray

Men with fertility problems may have an unlikely person (or rather, animal) to thank. After years and years of research, the very first functioning  sperm has been grown in a lab…not human sperm however, it’s from a mouse but most importantly, it’s fully functional and may hold clues for how to help infertile men in the near future.

This breakthrough took place in Japan when cells were collected from newborn mouse testicles and resulted in test tube sperm growth. This revolutionary news was announced in Nature March 23, 2011. These sperm cells were then injected into eggs which resulted in 12 healthy  offspring. These babies were then able to grow and mature like ordinary mice and were even able to reproduce once they reached maturity.

While there are never any guarantees that what works for mice will work the same for humans, researchers definitely see this as a great first step. Most medications (or any type of medical studies for that matter) are tested on animals (often mice) before they are tested in humans.

While most notably infertile men would prosper from this medical development, there is another much younger group who could also benefit. According to an ABC article, young boys battling cancer may too be able to someday start a family if this plan works as expected. When grown men undergo chemotherapy, they are often given the option to freeze sperm since the radiation typically renders a man infertile. While having children someday is likely the last thing on a young cancer patient’s mind, it’s something that perhaps the parents can take into consideration before their child is subjected to the radiation from the treatment. If all works as expected, perhaps cells can be extracted like they were from the newborn mice and later viable sperm can be grown and used to fertilize an egg.

To sum this up, as stated in the article, “by taking a biopsy of the prepubescent testicular tissue and freezing it, there may be a way to grow functioning sperm for future in vitro fertilization.”

Aside from using this method for humans, the impact this would have on endangered species preservation could also be quite notable.

Also mentioned is the undeniable fact that while this is a great step forward, only 100 sperm cells were used to produce the mice offspring, in humans it would require a much higher number (perhaps in the millions) and this poses a slightly more complicated problem – replicating this same procedure with human sperm and on a much larger scale.

Infertility can mean heartbreak for any couple attempting to start (or continue) their family. While it’s generally easier and less invasive for men to have their fertility tested, it is also possible for women to have their fertility tested too. Typically (without testing) men and women may want to start uncovering the reasons behind their difficulty conceiving if they have been actively trying to conceive for a year or more with no result. This time period  usually changes to 6 months when a woman is over the age of 30. Infertility testing for both men and women can help couples discover the underlying issues and help find a treatment that may work for them.