A British university claims world first as sperm is created from stem cells
British scientists have created human sperm using stem cells in a medical first that could revolutionise fertility treatment, they claim.
Researchers at the pioneering Northeast England Stem Cell Institute say they have made the breakthrough using stem cells from an embryo. They claim that with some minor changes the sperm could theoretically fertilise an egg to create a child.
Within 10 years, the scientists say the technique could also be used to allow infertile couples to have children that are genetically their own. It could even be possible to create sperm from female stem cells, they say, which would ultimately mean a woman having a baby without a man.
This is the first time human sperm has been created anywhere in the world in a laboratory. However, the experiment has proved controversial, threatening to reopen the fierce debate over embryo research.
The medical breakthrough, which is reported in the respected journal Stem Cells and Development, is the latest from the institute, which is made up of the Newcastle and Durham Universities along with the Newcastle NHS Foundation.
Leading biologist Professor Karim Nayernia said: ‘This is very amazing and very exciting. They have heads, they have tails and they move. The shape is not quite normal nor the movement, but they contain the proteins for egg activation.’
Professor Nayernia said the work was in its early stages and more investigation was needed to decide whether such sperm would be safe or suitable as a fertility treatment – although this is currently against the law.
It is estimated one in seven UK couples have difficulty conceiving – about 3.5 million people. In about a third of all couples having IVF, male fertility is a contributory factor.
Under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, using artificial sperm and eggs in fertility treatment is banned. It is legal to create sperm in the laboratory but to combine it with an egg to create an embryo for scientific research requires a licence. Even then the embryo must be destroyed within 14 days.