Skin cells from infertile men made into early stage sperm

A Montana State University researcher and her co-researchers are receiving international attention for showing that skin cells from infertile men can be used to create the precursors of sperm – research that holds promise for treating male infertility.

The teams’ work published on May 1 in Cell Reports has been reported on by England’s GuardianTelegraph, and Independent newspapers as well as National Public Radio and many U.S. science news outlets.

The team took skin cells from men who suffer from a genetic disorder, known as azoospermia, which prevents them from producing sperm. Those skin cells were then turned into stem cells, specifically, induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSC. Like other stem cells, iPSC have the ability to become any other type of cell.

The team then implanted the stem cells into the testes of mice where they produced the precursors to sperm. It was the first time such work has ever been done.

The research was carried out at Stanford University, but the paper was written at Montana State University by senior author Renee Reijo Pera, MSU’s new vice president for research. Reijo Pera came to MSU in January from Stanford where she had been director of Stanford University’s Center for Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Research and Education and the Center for Reproductive and Stem Cell Biology. She is regarded as one of the world authorities on embryonic stem cells.

The success of the stem cells in forming the precursors to sperm in the mice offer scientists a new way to study the causes of, and possible treatments for, male infertility. The findings hold promise that one day infertile men could have their own cells implanted in their testes as a treatment for infertility. Reijo Pera and the paper’s other authors caution that such a treatment would require much further research before being clinically viable.

“Infertility is remarkably common, affecting 10 to 15 percent of couples,” Reijo Pera said. “And the genetic causes of infertility are surprisingly prevalent among men. So progress in this area could potentially help thousands, if not millions, of couples around the world.”

Another implication of the paper is the possibility of using cells from endangered species to help boost their reproduction.

Contributing to the paper with Reijo Pera were Cyril Ramathal, lead author, Jens Durruthy-Durruthy and Joy Arakaki with the Institute for Stem Cell Biology & Regenerative Medicine, Departments of Genetics and Obstetrics and Gynecology at Stanford University; Meena Sukhwani and Kyle Orwing of the Magee Women’s Research Institute at the University of Pittsburgh; and Paul Turek, of the Turek Clinic in San Francisco.

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.

35 thoughts on “Skin cells from infertile men made into early stage sperm”

  1. Stem cell research is an extremely disputable issue mainly because it is thought to defy what is “meant to be” and ultimately causes religious conflict. However, the use of stem cells to cure genetic disorders such as azoospermia, eliminate or decrease the rate of animal extinction and hopefully be the answer behind many other syndromes, diseases and disorders in the future is a beneficial study.
    With that said though, this study was done and worked on mice, could it work on humans too? If so although this highly beneficial science will give the gift of parenthood to some, aren’t we unnecessarily adding to the already growing population of the world, whereas we could use science to eliminate things such as hunger and diseases caused by dirty water etc? And is it not illegal to use animals as testers in science and technology? What if the study posed dire effects on the animal?
    This is definitely a revolutionary study, but it can definitely be negatively exploited.

  2. This is an incredible discovery. Although I do understand that this is merely the beginning of the research and that it still needs a lot of research and testing, I truly am proud of the human race for developing technology this far.

    However I do have some concerns. Nothing has been mentioned about the side effects of the injection of these cells into the mice. I am not someone to blindly believe that just because it was not mentioned that there are no severe side effects. I am rather more of a pessimist believing that the whole truth has been kept from us if it does not mentioned all the aspects. I also agree on the comment about the world already being over populated and that this could worsen the problem.

    My personal opinion is that this is a revolutionary discovery when it comes to the reproduction of endangered species. Many species are on the verge of extinction and therefor, being the nature-loving person that I am, I truly wish that this be the answer to the problem of species going extinct. With every species that goes extinct, the earth and everything on it has to adapt and sometimes the change is not for the better.

    I wish this research all the best.

  3. It is a miracle that we as a human species are making such great advances in the medical and scientific field. However, if we are discovering things such as stem cell research and many other great discoveries, why are we still testing on animals? They say this could help with endangered species, but what are they actually doing to stop the cause of these species being endangered? Yes you can help them produce more offspring but that just provides more targets for poachers, in a Rhino’s case, or means there will be even less ice for Polar Bears because of Global Warming. Back to the topic of male infertility, I do understand that everyone wants to have children o their own, I hope I will have my own one day too, but the reality is, the whole world struggles with overpopulation. So now why would you want to increase that problem?

  4. This is incredible! Particular interest is that of repopulating endangered species. What isn’t shown in this post however is if the planted stem cells had any affect on the mouse into which it was injected. Would this produce an unnaturally high production of testosterone? In which case this could cause problems amongst the animal kingdom as males would be fighting more often, causing a decrease in male population of the species and therefore a lower rate of reproduction.

    As stated above, this method of treating infertility still needs a lot of experimentation and research, but this is an exciting development in medicine in both human and animal cases.

    How would skin cells be turned into stem cells? Would this be a result of transformation, where cells detect fragments of DNA outside of their system, take up these fragments and then incorporate them into their own DNA?

  5. Nicely done,what a good way to start for man who are infertile.This could be one of the best research this world could ever have more especially to man who are infertile.If you take a look at how painful it is for a family that doesn’t have children it is sad,i say bye bye to this genetic disorder called azoospermia which prevents man from producing sperm,and say big up to our intelligent scientist.

  6. This is very intriguing as this can bring hope to couples who cannot have children of their own. However it may be a little controversial as a few problems could arise. Firstly adoption rates would decrease as couples will want children of their own. Secondly how much would such a procedure cost, if it’s similar to IVF fertilization, that is still very expensive in my opinion. It may not be affordable to many couples. Thirdly and lastly, if it’s a genetic problem that has cause the male to be infertile, won’t that affect his children because these genes may be passed down? it’s still amazing but it brings such issues up.

  7. I entirely agree with Manakana Kamogelo (u14027110) that this may be the answer to many couples’ prayers but if the male is infertile is it not a genetic problem? Assuming that the infertility in males is due to faulty genes, this research will be detrimental to endangered species rather than beneficial. The reasoning behind this is because the faulty genes will be passed on to the offspring, in other words a higher numerical quantity of that particular species will exist but at the same time a higher percentage of that particular species will be infertile. In turn the species will be more and more reliant on humans for reproduction.

  8. Wow! What a medical breakthrough! Infertility in men is a significant problem in society, and is a problem men don’t feel comfortable talking about. Many men who struggle to have children are afraid of going for infertility tests, but this breakthrough may provide hope for infertile men.
    Stem cell research will always be a controversial issue and you’ll always have people who support it and who are against it. Yes, 14188849, maybe certain couple aren’t meant to have children, and yes there are many opportunities for adoption, however we are not in the place to judge others’ decisions until we are placed in the same situation.
    This new technology is far from perfect and being available to the public. It’s going to require many more hours of research and testing, before it is proven to be safe for the public. This new technology opens up doors for new young medical scientists and the future seems bright for stem cell research.

  9. Although this is a very controversial topic it is a very exciting and an amazing development. It is a very scary fact that 10% to 15 % of couples have infertility problems. This is why I believe that this research is beneficial because it gives the couples a chance of having there own baby which is a gift to an couple. If this research is a success do you this that they would place the sperm into another male and have it like a surrogate mother???

  10. The use of skin cells that are induced to stem cells is remarkable because they can form any other cells. This is great for the development of cells, and the production of sperm cells specifically. It allows men who cannot have children to have the opportunity to reproduce, as well as species that were not able to continue to reproduce can now produce offsprings. This is revolutionary because it allows species to continue to grow and develop. This can also decrease the extinction rate of various species and lead to an increase in the biodiversity.The future for stem cells development await a lot of hope for people’s lives and discoveries of success in the natural environment.

  11. Anything regarding stem cells always brings up some level of controversy. This is probably mostly due to the fact that in general people don’t understand much about it. When we talk about stem cells most people assume we are referring to embryonic stem cells derived from foetuses and not stem cells derived from other sources like human skin cells such as in this article. It is understandable since developing non-embryonic stem cells is a relatively new idea, only discovered in 2012.
    I was not aware that infertility was such a common problem but the new research is a step in the direction of solving this issue. However I agree with 14188849’s concerns about overpopulation and am concerned about the possible negative effects of this research.
    This article just goes to show the remarkable possibilities within stem cell research and I hope that it can be used in the future to fight other conditions such as cancer or to regrow lost organ or muscle tissue. I think the future of medical research lies in stem cell research.

  12. Producing sperm cells can open a lot of doors for future science. This could help people to save endangered species; it could also help many couples to have children even if they have the disorder of producing sperm or egg cells. This research will cause a decline in adoptions which can be good, but also negative because the possibility may arise that there will be more orphanages.

  13. What intrigued me the most about this article is that the discovery of the use of the induced pluripotent stem cells as a use a cure for azoospermia and as a fertility treatment could possibly decrease the amount of endangered species we have in this world and could possibly be used in the prevention of extinction by boosting their reproduction allowing successful fertilization and an increase in offspring produced. This could lead to an increase in the viability of many species which leads to an increase in the biodiversity across the globe.
    This research has lead to a possible solution to infertility of men due to the use of these stem cells as precursors to sperm by inserting them into the testes of males where they can take the form of newly formed sperm. In doing so the use of IVF will hopefully decrease as it is frowned upon by many people who thinks that it is an unnatural way of conceiving. This could decrease the extensive use of hormonal drugs that women have to take to prepare their bodies for procedures like IVF which could possibly decrease in chance of hormonal imbalances.

  14. This is great news if you are an infertile man. In matric, Life Science taught us that human gametes (Sperm cells and Ovums) have only 23 chromosomes, while somatic cells (all the other cells) have 46 chromosomes. So taking a somatic cell to create a gamete would lead me to think which chromosomes should be used, and which should be discarded? I think it is interrupting the flow of nature in a way, the same way genetic modification and cloning does. I also tend to agree with 14188849. Instead of spending money on fertility treatment, invest the money into changing the life of a disadvantaged baby. However, I stand behind stem cell research the context of healing people and boosting endangered species (After all, it is because of human activities that these species are endangered), as I see this as being totally advantageous.

  15. Now there is hope for infertile men to have kids of their own since there is a possibility for their skin cells to be used to create the precursors of sperm. It is amazing how these research of treating male infertility has got so much consideration. This is like an answer to most couples’ prayer, having child of their own and not having to adopt. Using cells from endangered species to help boost reproduction of infertile men may be helpful but not overwhelming. Further research will be more helpful because it will tell if this treatment will also work well on humans. How will it be first tested on men?

  16. This is a revolutionary find, but i agree with 14188849. if one is born infertile maybe that is how it is meant to be like that. Humans and our technological advances are hindering that of natural selection and survival of the fittest.

    However this is still a remarkable find and will help a lot of couples around the world who have a problem with infertility. This treatment only creates the precursor of sperm, therefore it is not definite that infertility will be cured via this method, as stated by Gabriella 14072948. This is certainly one of the more promising treatments. Stem cells are the basis of the body and are able to form any other cell in the body and therefore leave this the most promising treatment.

  17. The discovery of genetic manipulation of skin cells to make sperm cells is revolutionary!

    Hopefully this discovery could eventually be applied to humans as well to assist infertile men to become biological fathers.

    This discovery means that couples would not need a third party sperm donor, but would be able to pass on their own genes and be true biological parents.

    It would be interesting to see how the costs of such treatment would compare to that of currently available treatments such as in vitro fertilization.

    I think there will also be less ethical issues regarding this genetic manipulation, because there is no potential life that is being terminated or altered, such as with embryo stem cell manipulation.

  18. This groundbreaking technology is all good and well, but you have got to ask yourself, if a couple are not capable of having a child, maybe they are not meant to. There are countless children in this world who have been put up for adoption, and if a couple is so desperate to have a child surely their love and care would be well suited to an abandoned child? Isn’t the world struggling with an over population crisis?

  19. I agree that stem cell research topic has wound up a lot of controversy and bias. But evidently this could lead to a good cause. If this research could cure male infertility could it not do the same for women infertility if their skin cells are turned into stem cells and then into ova that could be impregnated and transplanted into the womb. If the percentage of infertile couples is that high, it would be perfect for them to have children with their genes. And to increase reproduction amongst endangered species could prevent them from becoming extinct. Maybe stem cell research could help make the world better and brighter.

  20. Stem cell research is a very controversial topic. However this stem cell research is not going to be met with a lot of criticism as the stem cells do not come from embryos, instead they are from the skin cells of an adult male. This research also brings up the animal testing debate as it may have worked in mice. but will it work in humans? If this research is successful in human trials it could change society drastically. The use of IVF and GIFT may steadily decrease and adoption rates would decrease as well. Stem cell research will always remain a ingenious yet controversial topic.

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