Is Creating Sperm in the Lab Possible?

One of the things that have spurred in the medical community is the creation of gametes from sperm cells and egg cells using the manipulation of pluripotent stem cells. Although in vitro fertilization exists, doing the procedure is not really feasible for some.

However, scientists in China may have inched closer to creating sperm cells in the lab. The purpose of the research was to come up with sex cells that will help couples who suffer from infertility.
Jiahao Sha of Nanjing University has spearheaded research that made use of stem cells in the hopes of turning it into workable sex cells. Theoretically, you can create any type of cell when you use pluripotent versions of it. However, that is really something hard to do in practice.

Sha and his team were the first to round spermatids or sperm cell precursors and they did it entirely in an in vitro environment.

According to Brian Hermann, a stem cell researcher and reproductive biologist, what Sha did was actually a good piece of work and it creates a precedent for other researchers to finally create germ cells entirely in vitro that can be used in reproductive purposes.

He also added that Sha shouldn’t be downtrodden with the results because the very fact that they were able to make germ cells that are completely derived from pluripotent stem cells and have them complete meiosis is already a major step forward.

The Research

Jiaohao Sha and his team first created murine embryonic stem cells in the hopes of turning them into haploid gamete precursors known as primordial germ cells. The resulting cells are then placed in cell cultures and they’ve introduced some hormones like testosterone, for example.

The culture that was created using the process was then subjected to the same environment that primordial germ cells usually undergo in the testes. Doing this will promote the germ cells to initiate and undergo meiosis.

Next, the team has done a technique that is closely similar to intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) by gathering mouse ova and then injecting them with the round spermatids. This procedure is usually done in assistive reproductive therapy.

The method will then create embryos and the team implanted them into female mice. Even though the vast majority of the samples did not make it, 6 out of the 200 implanted embryos go on to fully develop into newborn mice.

Upon screening, the mice were positive for reporter transgenes that would help the researchers find out the round spermatids that were implanted a few processes prior. The newborn mice went on to become fertile adult mice.


Nam Tran, a stem cell researcher, said that although the study has provided a good proof of concept, real-world use in humans might prove to be more challenging.

You see, human sperm would require further maturation that mice sperm cells. Until they can create a method where sperm cells that were created in vitro can mature into strong and viable sperm cells, the findings would be limited to just mice and other animals.

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