The academic journal Stem Cells and Development reports that for the first time, human sperm have been created from embryonic stem cells.
In the technique developed at Newcastle University, stem cells with XY chromosomes (male) were developed into germline stem cells which were then prompted to complete meiosis - cell division with halving of the chromosome set. These were shown to produce fully mature, sperm known as "In Vitro Derived sperm" (IVD sperm).
"This is an important development as it will allow researchers to study in detail how sperm forms and lead to a better understanding of infertility in men - why it happens and what is causing it. This understanding could help us develop new ways to help couples suffering infertility so they can have a child which is genetically their own," said research leader Professor Karim Nayernia.
The team also believes that studying the process of forming sperm could lead to a better understanding of how genetic diseases are passed on. Nayernia stressed that the IVD sperm will not be used for fertility treatment. As well as being prohibited by UK law, the research team says fertilization of human eggs and implantation of embryos would hold no scientific merit.
"While we can understand that some people may have concerns, this does not mean that humans can be produced 'in a dish' and we have no intention of doing this. This work is a way of investigating why some people are infertile and the reasons behind it. If we have a better understanding of what's going on it could lead to new ways of treating infertility," concluded Nayernia.
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Source: Newcastle University