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British scientists create human sperm from stem cells

By Michael Krebs     Jul 7, 2009 in Science
A team of British scientists announced that they have created human sperm from embryonic stem cells. The achievement is a first in medicine and underscores the need for broad-based stem cell research.
Some women have longed to live in a world without men, but they have always conceded that their need for men was a reflection of their need to reproduce the species. Now, a team of British scientists may have created an environment where human sperm could be readily produced using abundant embryonic stem cells.
While this may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, the claim is real and was announced by researchers working out of Newcastle University.
"They stressed that the sperm, developed from stem cells with XY chromosomes (male), would not be used for fertility treatment, as this is prohibited by British law and in any case is not their main interest," AFP reported.
The discovery has particular applications for the understanding of infertility in men.
"This is an important development as it will allow researchers to study in detail how sperm forms and lead to a better understanding of infertility in men -- why it happens and what is causing it," Professor Karim Nayernia, leader of the research team, told AFP. "This understanding could help us develop new ways to help couples suffering infertility so they can have a child which is genetically their own."
And while the announcement has remarkable implications across a host of scientific, social, and ethical questions, not everyone in the scientific community was convinced.
"As a sperm biologist of 20 years' experience, I am unconvinced from the data presented in this paper that the cells produced by Professor Nayernia's group from embryonic stem cells can be accurately called 'spermatozoa'," said Dr Allen Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield, according to AFP. "While the cells produced may possess some of the distinctive genetic features and molecular markers seen in sperm, fully differentiated human spermatozoa have specific cellular morphology, behaviour and function that are not described here."
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