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Researchers Create Early-Stage Sperm Cells from Skin Cells

Update Date: May 02, 2014 02:20 PM EDT

There might be a way to treat men dealing with infertility. In a new study, researchers took skin cells from infertile men and were able to create sperm cell precursors in mice models. The sperm cell precursors could potentially be used to treat infertility.

"Our results are the first to offer an experimental model to study sperm development," said Renee Reijo Pera of the Institute for Stem Cell Biology & Regenerative Medicine and Montana State University. "Therefore, there is potential for applications to cell-based therapies in the clinic, for example, for the generation of higher quality and numbers of sperm in a dish. It might even be possible to transplant stem-cell-derived germ cells directly into the testes of men with problems producing sperm."

For this study, the team examined infertile but healthy men. They took the skin cells from three men with azoospermia, which is a genetically tied condition that prohibits the production of viable sperm, and from two men without the condition.

"If you look at the lack of sperm production due to azoospermia, it's only about 1 percent of the population," said study senior author Renee Reijo Pera, a professor of cell biology and neurosciences at Montana State University reported in HealthDay. "But if you look at secondary infertility among men who had cancer when they were boys and were treated with chemotherapy or radiation that ended up making them infertile, then you're talking about thousands and thousands of men."

The researchers altered the skin cells into pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) iPSCs go on to develop into various kinds of cells. The team implanted these cells into the testes of mice where they became sperm cell precursors. These precursor cells, also known as primordial germ cells, typically go on to develop into healthy sperm cells.

"Because we used mouse and human cells together for this study, we didn't complete that pathway,"Pera said. "We didn't actually produce sperm. And we would still have to look at this in humans to see how it will all work. So there's a long way to go before we might be able to actually do something with all of this."

The study, "Fate of iPSCs Derived from Azoospermic and Fertile Men Following Xenotransplantation to Murine Seminiferous Tubules," was published in the Cell Press Journal, Cell Reports.

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