Infertility breakthrough as scientists grow sperm outside the body

  • Mouse sperm successfuly grown in dish
  • Team working ‘as quickly as possible’ to recreate result in humans
  • Scientists believe it will be possible

Rob Waugh

Last updated at 2:35 PM on 2nd January 2012

Researchers in Germany and Israel were able to grow mouse sperm from a few cells in a laboratory dish

Researchers in Germany and Israel were able to grow mouse sperm from a few cells in a laboratory dish. The scientists believe that the same technique – using ‘germ cells’ extracted from the testicles – will eventually work in humans

Scientists have made a major breakthrough that  could lead to infertile men being able to father their own children, rather than using donor sperm. 

Researchers in
Germany and Israel were able to grow mouse sperm from a few cells in a
laboratory dish.

The scientists believe that the same technique – using ‘germ cells’ extracted from the testicles – will eventually work in humans.

The team are now ‘working as quickly as possible’ to reproduce the result in humans.

In a world first a team headed by Professor Stefan Schlatt, at Muenster
University in Germany, were able to grow sperm by using germ cells.

These are
the cells in testicles that are responsible for sperm production.

Scientists grew the sperm by surrounding the germ cells in a special compound
called agar jelly to create an environment similar to that found in testicles.

Professor Mahmoud Huleihel, who also grew the sperm at Israel’s Ben Gurion
University in Beersheba, said: ‘I believe it will eventually be possible to
routinely grow human male sperm to order by extracting tissue containing germ
cells from a man’s testicle and stimulating sperm production in the laboratory.’

The findings of the sperm trial have been revealed in a major scientific
journal published by Nature.

Now the scientists who made the discovery have begun experiments that will
hopefully lead to the ‘Holy Grail’ – human sperm grown outside a man’s body.

Stephen Gordon, a leading NHS male infertility consultant, praised the
breakthrough.  He said: ‘This is an amazing development that could
revolutionise fertility treatment and allow every man to be a natural father.

‘Infertile men naturally want to be the father of their child but at present
have to accept that can’t happen. With the mouse discovery, that could now be a

Professor Richard Sharpe, one of the UK’s top fertility
scientists, based at Edinburgh University, who hopes to work on the project,
said: ‘This is a significant step forward towards making human sperm.’

problem of male infertility has grown over the last 50 years and has been
matched by huge decrease in sperm counts in men. Some of this has been
attributed to environmental factors such as pollution and female hormones
appearing in plastic packaging.

Mr Gordon, a urologist, who practises at Epsom Hopsital, Surrey, said: ‘Even
with our latest microsurgical techniques there are still thousands of men – who
are otherwise healthy -who can’t naturally father babies and rely on sperm

Professor Huleihel said his team were now working ‘as quickly as
possible’ to reproduce their success in mice to help infertile men.

‘We have already applied the same tests as we did with mice in the laboratory,
using human cells, but as yet have not had success. We are confident that if it
can be done in a mammal such as a mouse it can be done in humans.

‘We are experimenting with a number of different compounds to get the germ
cells to grow into sperm. And we believe it will be possible. And, hopefully,

The sperm production breakthrough is reported in the Asian Journal of
Andrology this month.

Professor Huleihel added: ‘We were able to produce viable sperm that could have
been used to create baby mice. The sperm appeared healthy and were not
genetically damaged.

‘It has taken us several years to reach this stage
so a technique to create human sperm won’t come overnight but we have started
that research already after our success with mice.’

In an attempt to speed up
the search for a way of making human sperm Professor Huleihel’s team is about
to start talks with Professor Richard Sharpe at Edinburgh University.

Professor Sharpe said: ‘What this research shows is that it will be possible to
make human sperm outside the body. The germ cells just need the right
environment. That’s the tricky part getting them to think they are in the
testes  Professor Sharpe believes that one novel way may possible.
He proposes using a live mouse as a ‘host’ to make human sperm.

He said: ‘What you would do is take some human testicular tissue with germ
cells and place that under the skin of the mouse and use it to incubate the

‘You could then extract any sperm and use it in fertility
treatment. But we would have to demonstrate that there were no mouse cells
present in the extracted sperm if we were to use this technique and I believe
that’s possible.’

Mr Gordon, who also treats infertile men at the private New
Life Clinic, said: ‘Hundreds of millions have been poured into research into
female infertility but research into male infertility attracts relatively
little interest.

‘There will be a lot of infertile men hoping this research succeeds and that in
future they won’t have to rely on a sperm donor to have child.’

Before human
sperm grown in a laboratory could be used in fertility treatment it would have
to be licensed.  But researchers like Professor Sharpe believes that this
hurdle will be overcome.

He said: ‘The main thing that would have to be proved is that the sperm was not
genetically damaged and was the same as sperm produced in the testes. Similar
checks are already carried out on eggs and embryos used in women’s fertility

Here’s what other readers have said. Why not add your thoughts,
or debate this issue live on our message boards.

The comments below have not been moderated.

So ends one of the joys available to men – helping procreation

As if we don`t have enough people on this planet as it is!

Don’t let Liz Jones have the address of that clinic, she’ll be down there like a shot stealing all the manufactured sperm!

This is a geniune query. Years ago the only alternative to being childless was to adopt. Given that there are not many babies being available for adoption nowadays be it for red tape, screening processes, and the obvious benefits there are to keeping an unplanned baby now etc., has it now become less desirable to adopt but have to have a child as near biological as possible or so they think? Would those who so desire to be parents not even consider adoption anymore if everything could be done outside of the body, in a lab? I am not anti IVF by any means but I am all for every baby/ child being desperately wanted by many, not being a meal ticket for some who really don’t want them.

This will make so many people so happy. I have a family member that’s infertile and I see first hand the sadness this brings to all concerned.’ Well done to the scientists.’

rev, Birmingham, It is indeed shocking. So many comments and articles in DM are anti IVF, anti-adoption, anti-life for downs syndrome, infirm, and anyone over the age of 70. There is also much rage against families with more than two children. I am an adoptive mother, completely fulfilled, and yet I wish perfect success and baby bliss to all those seeking treatment for infertility. Red arrows welcome!

Men are redundant? The lame scream media is a misandrist, female pandering, pathetic organism that serves no useful purpose in the world.

I am shocked some people are so anti-ivf and fertility treatment. Before I knew it was a requirement for me and my husband to have children I really didn’t have an opinion on it. People saying you need to be in that position before you judge are absolutely correct. Otherwise, how could you possibly known what it feels like to be told “you will not have children!” it’s not a choice then, that’s it. If you haven’t heard those words you couldn’t possibly understand and really need to think before you make silly comments about overpopulation etc. Millions and billions are spent attempting to eradicating illness, famine and disease, fertility treatment is a drop in the ocean by comparison. It’d be inhumane to say stop treating illness and disease, just as it would be to stop a loving family have their own child!

I cannot believe people are still pulling the, “infertility is population control” card!!
Hey why don’t we just stop giving people with health problems any care? Surely all illnesses and diseases are population control then?
And for the “just adopt” gang, why is it just down to the infertile to adopt? Shouldn’t any suitable person be adopting?

Given the world’s overpopulation problems and the number of unwanted children brought into it, I can only imagine that these ” researchers” are either terminally stupid or out to make a great deal of money out of the idiots who will do anything to reproduce.- Kate Evans……………..I take it Kate that you don’t have/intend to have your own biological children, but will in fact be adopting.
– Sam, UK, 2/1/2012 17:51 ————- of course she won’t !!

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