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Sperm grown in laboratory raise hopes of male infertility treatments
Mouse sperm were grown using a technique that could also help preserve the fertility of boys undergoing cancer treatment
Though the procedure would be illegal in Britain under current legislation, sperm grown in the laboratory, if proven safe, could be used to help infertile men have children through standard IVF treatments.
The procedure could also benefit boys with cancer who are too young to produce sperm but are at risk of being made infertile by radio- or chemotherapy.
While men can have their sperm frozen before cancer treatment, the latest research suggests boys could have testicular tissue removed and kept in cold storage for use in later life.
Japanese researchers cultivated small pieces of tissue from the testes of baby mice on a gel bathed in nutrients. After several weeks they collected viable sperm from the tissue.
The sperm appeared to be completely healthy and were used in IVF treatments to produce 12 live mouse pups that went on to have young of their own. Seven of the mice were born after sperm heads were transferred into 23 eggs using a technique called round spermatid injection, and another five were born after 35 eggs were fertilised using intracytoplasmic sperm injection (Icsi), a common IVF procedure.
Importantly, the scientists retrieved healthy sperm from tissue that was cultivated after being frozen for up to 25 days, suggesting that cold storage did not harm the cells. The work, reported in the journal, Nature, is the most successful attempt yet to grow mammalian sperm from testicular tissue in the laboratory.
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