By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc – Updated: 12 Mar 2017
Turning Stem Cells Into Sperm
There are many different reasons to find ways to create sperm from stem cells – one of these is to help infertile couples have children. It’s an enormous field of work and thus far, it’s looking as though stem cells may end up providing one answer to this problem.
New Stem Cell Research
Researchers in the US were able to essentially ‘reprogram’ adult stem cells into sperm and egg cells. Infertility affects a huge number of people around the world, which results from disease, injury or age-related conditions.
Scientists believe they will eventually be able to reprogram virtually any cell – such as a skin cell – into a cell that is similar to an embryonic stem cell. Like these embryonic stem cells, the reprogrammed cells are able to differentiate into any kind of cell in the body.
By coaxing the cells into precursors for germ lines, the cells can then grow to be an egg or sperm cell. Problems still abound though because ensuring that the cells are of high enough quality is a challenge for researchers. This is unfortunate in particular because it could mean that actual viable stem cell treatments for infertility are still many years away now.
While the cells are still germ lines ones – similar to those from embryonic stem cells – researchers also found that there were certain important functions that were not done correctly as they should be in embryonic stem cells. Again, it means that more research is needed to ensure that the procedure would be safe and effective.
Controversial Embryonic Stem Cells
While embryonic stem cells remain highly controversial, scientists have stressed that their use remains paramount to developing treatments for infertility. These stem cells are derived from discarded embryos in procedures such as in vitro fertilisation. They would normally be discarded and rendered useless but stem cell research allows them to be put forth as a means for improving healthcare.
One of the key things that a germ cell must do after it forms is to go through a number of processes such as regulating genes. If the cell is to function properly, it’s necessary for the gene regulation to occur as it should.
If it doesn’t, then the sperm that results won’t likely work as it should as well. If you consider that the aim is to create a healthy baby who will grow into a healthy adult, it’s quite a worrying prospect and consequence that the sperm may not be functioning adequately.
Finding Out More
Researchers plan to find out exactly why the new cells don’t regulate genes exactly as they should. Once they can tackle this challenge, it’s hoped that treatments for infertility may follow suit.
Not only that, but the germ lines have a high failure rate as well in terms of their creation from embryonic stem cells. Only around ten percent of embryonic stem cells will actually continue on to germ cells.
Infertility Treatments of the Future
If these challenges are eventually overcome though, it can mean that a man who has a low sperm count is able to have a greater amount of his sperm created to potentially fertilize a woman’s egg. Researchers remain committed to finding ways to make this kind of treatment a reality but for now, other procedures will remain options for infertility.