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article imageResearchers to build artificial testicles for infertile men

By JohnThomas Didymus     Jan 19, 2012 in Science
San Francisco - Researchers in California are working to build an artificial testicle, a human "sperm-making biological machine," that can produce human sperm and allow otherwise infertile men to make babies.
According to My Health News Daily, Dr. Paul Turek, director of the Turek Clinic, a men's health medical practice in San Francisco, says that recent advances show that the idea of treating infertility in male animals by producing sperm using stem cells is feasible. While this has been done successfully in mice, it has not been done in humans.
Turek recently announced on his Turek on Men's Health site that he has received a government grant to develop a human "sperm-making biological machine." According to My Health News Daily, Turek and his colleague, Dr. Constance John, chief executive of MandalMed Inc., a biotech company in San Francisco, received a small research grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Turek says the new "machine" will not be designed to resemble a testicle like non-sperm-producing prosthesis that are saline-filled implant for men who don't have testicles. Rather, the sperm producing machine will come as a cylindrical bag a few inches in length and will look "like a transparent, over-sized Tootsie Roll." Turek on Men's Health explains: "To be clear, this grant is not about creating a testicular implant for a man who is missing a real one. We did that a decade or so ago. This award is to develop a sperm making biological machine...We now have a couple of years to create human artificial sperm in a dish, or more formally, a 'bioreactor,' a fancy dish to be sure."
This is not the first time scientists will attempt to device artificial methods for growing sperm cells. But so far, attempts have failed because the sperm cells do not complete the necessary steps in spermatogenesis, that is, the biological process in which sperm cells are created. Spermatogenesis goes through 12 stages, but so far, attempts to take cells through the stages under artificial conditions end at the 9th or 10th stage, showing that the last stages require very precise conditions provided by the testicles in its natural state, specifically, the conditions in the the testicular structures in which the main stages of spermatogenesis occur, namely, the seminiferous tubules (see micrograph image above). According to Turek, he and his team are working to, "re-create the testicle in an artificial environment, with all of its components."
The researchers say that they will begin by growing cells, such as sertoli cells, that are involved in nurturing sperm cells during development in the seminiferous tubules. The researchers will then add embryonic stem cells, that is, cells that can be grown into any cell in the human body. The stem cells will have special genes directing spermatogenesis implanted in them to ensure that they develop into viable sperm precursor cells.
An alternative method, according to Turek, would be to use adult stem cells rather than embryonic stem cells. In this case, the cells could be taken from the human skin (the patient's) and the "clock turned back" so that the cells develop into sperm. But it is not certain whether this is feasible, Turek said.
According to the researchers, the artificial testicles will last only about 70 days, the approximate time it takes for one cycle of sperm production.
My Health News Daily reports Kyle Orwig, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, said: "It's an ambitious project. But it would be fantastic if it happened. It would have an important impact on fundamental investigations of human sperm production as well as the fertility field...To my knowledge, no one has tried to create sperm in this specific manner before. The major challenge will be figuring out how to get the human stem cells to become sperm precursor cells. Several labs around the world are actively working on this problem with some reported successes."
More about artificial testicles, Male infertility, Testicles, spermmaking biological machine, Dr Paul Turek
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