Human Sperm Created in UK Lab
British scientists in Newcastle claim they’ve achieved another milestone in biomedical research – creating a human sperm in the lab for the very first time.
How human sperm is created.
Using stem cells from a human embryo, they simulated the crucial process of meiosis, a type of cell division that splits the number of chromosomes into half. The whole process took about 4 to 6 weeks. The sperm produced were said to be mature and mobile.
This feat has been done before using mouse stem cells but this is the first time that it has been demonstrated to be possible using human stem cells. Gametes (eggs and sperm) are different from other cells in the body because they only have half the number of chromosomes. The chromosomal number is completed only during fertilization, when the egg and the sperm merge and contribute 50-50 to the genetic material. Simulating the process of meiosis is very critical and tedious, which is why nobody has done it until now.
How can this technology be used?
- Understanding (in)fertility in men. In simulating the formation of sperm, scientists can have more insight as to why some men are fertile and some are not.
- Understanding how sperm are affected by environmental factors. Certain chemicals and toxins, including chemotherapy drugs can cause permanent infertility. Scientists think they could help find a solution to reverse this problem.
- Understanding how genetic defects are passed on from father to child. In knowing the sperm is formed and developed, scientists might be able someday to manipulate the process and sort out the good genes from the bad.
The researchers stressed that this has nothing to do with procreation and they have no intention of using the lab-made sperm in fertilizing an egg, a procedure which is illegal in the UK. Expectedly, the announcement created a furor not only in the scientific community but among pro-life and religious groups.
Arguments against laboratory made sperm:
- The human embryos in stem cell research has always been steeped in controversy and considered ethically and politically incorrect. Josephine Quintavalle of Comment on Reproductive Ethics (Corethics) does not see the point of destroying a perfectly viable human embryo to produce experimental sperm.
- Cost-efficiency. From a more practical perspective, one may ask, is it really worth it? While there is a shortage of egg cells available for stem cell research, there is more than ample supply of sperm. Is it really worth the time and the money to create something in the lab that is easily available in nature? Or is it simply about proving that it can be done?
So what do you think? Is this an exciting scientific discovery or is it another one of those scientific dead-ends?