Sperm has been grown in a laboratory and used to create offspring for the first time, in a breakthrough that could signal the end of male infertility.
Scientists in China coaxed embryonic mice stem cells into sperm cells, which were implanted into eggs, from which healthy mouse pups were born. It is hoped that the same technology will eventually be available for men who do not produce sperm.
British scientists said it marked a “significant step” towards reversing infertility.
“We think it holds tremendous promise for treating male infertility,” said Dr Jiahao Sha of Nanjing Medical University. “If proved to be safe and effective in humans, our platform could potentially generate fully functional sperm for artificial insemination or in-vitro fertilisation techniques.
“Because currently available treatments do not work for many couples, we hope that our approach could substantially improve success rates for male infertility.”
Around 15pc of couples are infertile, and one-third of the problems can be traced to men. A major cause of male infertility is the failure of germ cells in the testes to undergo a type of cell division – called meiosis – to form functional sperm cells.
For men who fail to produce any sperm, there are no effective treatments; their only recourse is to use donor sperm. But the scientists have proved it is possible to recreate meiosis in the lab. The lab-grown sperm could then be inserted into an egg and implanted in a woman.
Although the Chinese researchers used embryonic stem cells from a fertile mouse, it should be equally possible to use stem cells from an infertile patient, giving men the chance of having their own biological children rather using sperm from a donor.
Allan Pacey, professor of andrology at the University of Sheffield, said: “This represents a further step forward in our abilities to produce sperm outside the body in a laboratory dish. This would be a remarkable thing to be able to do, both for the advancement of science and to be able to help infertile men father children that are genetically theirs.” (© Daily Telegraph, London)