The Prolistem® Full Story…

A Love for Research

My name is Dr. Mahmoud Abuelhija, I  got my start in Ben Gurion University majoring in medical laboratory, during the last year of my studies I joined a small lab that researches the human reproductive systems for both genders, our team was tasked with investigating ovarian cancer. Our operation involved receiving samples from the oncology department and analyzing them for the involvement of cytokines and growth factors in normal specimens compared to those of ovarian cancer. This was my first venture doing real work in the field I studied. I applied all of the information I gathered and began to get a sense of how expansive this field really is! It started to become clear to me just how very difficult it is to find viable solutions to all different forms of cancer because of how savvy these cells can be. The reality is vastly different than what is perceived.

I loved this field so much I decided to delve deeper. I started my masters degree at the same lab in the same university but this time I tried something different, I started investigating the male reproductive system using mice models. The aim of one of our projects was to get an understanding of the impacts of growth factors and cytokines on sperm production. We wanted to experiment this in two different ways at the same time. The first way involved using the mice directly as a live model and the second way involved the development of a new method of culturing these sperm-making cells called spermatogonia stem cells from the testes. Culturing them into a dish.

We found great success in growing the stem cells in the lab and actually created many colonies! We used this model to get a greater understanding of how sperm was produced inside the testis. During this time, we published an article about the male reproductive system which is currently available online. I got some prices regarding these findings and an award of excellent studies. I was very close to making these stem cells divide even more inside the dish but my two year masters degree program was over before I knew it. I applied for direct PhD and I counted on the research of the same lab to continue to try to find continued  growth in these cells.

After three years of dedicated work we discovered a new method of transforming these stem cells into mature sperm cells. This was an amazing breakthrough, but since we were a small lab of only five scientists, nobody believed us. We tried very hard to no avail to publish our data and show the world our amazing findings. We collaborated with colleagues from Germany and they experimented using our method. They also found success in maturing the sperm cells at the same time but were also unable to publish the findings.

We submitted our work for the public but unfortunately they refused. They wanted us to show substantial proof that these sperm are fertile. Seriously? Really? C’mon guys the least you can do is publish these findings now and surely in time, we would’ve found a way to prove the fertility of these sperm cells. Eventually, other groups of scientists around the world started publishing data about findings similar to our own. We needed to act quickly, therefore we rushed to publish our article online with any journal that would accept and to this day our information is easily accessible.

The idea of growing these cells inside the dish is to help men with azoospermia, which is the absence of mobile sperm. With our research we would have insight as to the process of taking take these fully formed and functional sperm cells grown in our labs and making them utilizable by the female host via IVF or ICSI.

My colleague from Germany recommended I should join an apprenticeship with a small group at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX  so that I could learn more about azoospermia and stem cells. I worked hard for two years in the lab and gained so much insight in the field of sperm production. I pondered why with the wealth of knowledge we have on the subject, just why there wasn’t more we could do…

I am passionate about the azoospermia field not for certificates or rewards. I want to make a difference for my peers who I know are suffering from azoospermia. I want to help friends of mine who are constantly looking to me, asking if there is some new development we can try. They motivate me to find something that can actually help. Eventually I made the disappointing  discovery that the research done in academic universities or hospitals is done just for publication and personal gain. They don’t utilize the knowledge and they don’t apply it in the necessary situations. They’re only interested in receiving grants every year and they just continue researching and publishing articles, year after year. They can spend forty years and millions of dollars investigating some sedated mice without ever arriving at one practical conclusion.

Therefore, I decided to leave the university and opted out for investigating on my own, taking with me all the knowledge that I learned for eleven years. Results that looked convoluted to me in my early years at in Ben Gruion University when I tried to culture these stem cells are now making sense to me after all the results that I got in the years of my azoospermia experiments.

The smoking gun: It was the testosterone. Unbeknownst to us at the time, adding testosterone kills all stem cells inside the dish. After 4 years of continued applied research, I confirmed that the same result was happening in my azoospermia experiments, unbeknownst to us this whole time. Basically, we discovered that testosterone is good in normal men but not so good in azoospermic men. My question remained, why?! Simply because, it blocks the stem cell. This is exactly what happened to us when we tried to grow stem cells in the dish with testosterone present.

My company developed a new product based on all the knowledge we had possessed all these years, initially we called the product SpermHope and tested it on animal models. I still remember the first time I put the slide under the microscope looking for something, anything to indicate functionality after three months of administering our treatment. I was shocked when I saw some primary and secondary spermatocyte. It’s working! I said, finally.

Today, our treatment is called Prolistem®. It is a patented and registered trademark and it’s helping a great number of people around the world suffering from azoospermia. I didn’t forget one of my friends, he now has a little girl. I wish I can share pictures with you but he didn’t allow it but nevertheless, many of our amazing success stories can be found on our website.

Research is the heart of everything and I still love it to this day I haven’t stopped trying to do more for the field. I recently expanded our operation and we are currently looking for new solutions to isolate rare cells from the blood for diagnosis and treatments such as the isolation of fetal cell from pregnant women for non invasive prenatal diagnosis…and much more.