German and Israeli scientists were able to grow mouse sperm from a few cells in a laboratory dish.
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.
The development opens up the possibility of infertile men being able to father their own children rather than using donor sperm.
Stephen Gordon, a leading National Health Service(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.
“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,” Professor Huleihel said.
“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.”
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.’
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 believes that one novel way may make it 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 cells.
‘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.’
The 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.
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 donation.’
‘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.’