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Artificial Testicle and Other News in Male Infertility
It is estimated that male infertility is the cause of about one-third of fertility issues. But 2012 promises to be an exciting year for the study of male infertility.
Researchers in Israel and German published a study in Nature in which they were able to grow grow viable mouse sperm in a laboratory dish using just a few mouse germ cells, which are found in testicles and are responsible for sperm production. In addition, Japanese researchers published a study in Cell in which they used embryonic stem cells to grow healthy mouse sperm in laboratory dishes.
Yes, there's a long way to go before scientists are growing sperm for human men, but the success of these studies may mean scientists can accelerate the work into the study of growing human sperm.
“This is very exciting, if possible, for men that have lost their testicles to trauma, torsion, cancer, etc.," says André L. Denis, MD, MPH, with Atlanta Center for Reproductive Medicine (ACRM). "This would allow them to become biological fathers in the future. However, much more research is needed before considering human trials.”
The Artificial Testicle
Two California researchers are going to delve deeper into producing human sperm with an artificial testicle. Paul Turek, director and founder of The Turek Clinic, a men's reproductive health practice, and Dr. Constance John, chief executive of MandalMed, Inc, a San Francisco-based biotech company, were recently awarded a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to construct an artificial human testicle and research how sperm are made from stem cells.
“Fertile sperm can be made from various stem cells in mice, but making human sperm from these same sources has been elusive,” says Turek, a practicing male infertility specialist in San Francisco. With this project, the two scientists will try to produce mature human sperm in a live laboratory model of a human testicle.
The hope is that a functioning artificial testicle could be used to later develop patient-specific, fertile sperm for men who simply do not make sperm due to genetic or acquired causes.
Testing Fertility at Home
Soon men will be able to buy an at-home fertility test at their local drugstore. ContraVac, a Charlottesville, VA, company expects to be selling SpermCheck Fertility in stores by April 15.
SpermChek Fertility is an at-home test for determining sperm count. With the test, a positive result indicates that a man's sperm count is above 20 million sperm per milliliter of semen, which is the accepted standard among fertility experts for “normal” sperm count. A negative result indicates that a man's sperm count is below the 20 million sperm per milliliter threshold, and that further testing by a fertility doctor might be warranted to determine if low sperm count is causing any fertility issues.
"This test may be useful for couples who have been trying to get pregnant for a few months, but aren't ready to seek medical evaluation of infertility, which is usually defined by one year of unprotected intercourse," says Amy Sparks, PhD, HCLD, director of the lab at the University of Iowa Center for Advanced Reproductive Care. "Accurate test results require the individual to follow the testing procedure, which includes mixing the sample with another solution before applying the mixture to the test cartridge. The test results indicate whether or not the sperm concentration falls in the normal or “fertile” range. It does not provide the user with information about the quality or motility of the sperm, which are both important factors in determining a man’s reproductive potential."
Moshe Wald, associate professor in the Department of Urology at the University of Iowa, cautions that over-the-counter sperm testing is not a replacement for a formal semen analysis conducted at a certified laboratory. "It is important to note that these over-the-counter kits do not have the accuracy of a formal semen analysis performed at a certified laboratory," he explains. "Additionally, formal semen analysis performed at a certified laboratory includes various parameters other than sperm count, such as semen volume, sperm motility and morphology, which are not provided by these over-the-counter kits."