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article imageLab grows proto egg and sperm cells

By Tim Sandle     Jan 4, 2015 in Science
Using stem cells, scientists have generated early egg- and sperm-like cells within a laboratory. This could be a step towards a cure for infertility.
Scientists based at the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute, together with researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science, have identified the transcription factor SOX17 as a key regulator of human primordial germ cell development. A transcription factor is a protein that binds to specific DNA sequences, thereby controlling the rate of transcription of genetic information. This is the first step of gene expression.
With the study the researchers found that SOX17 prompted human induced pluripotent stem cells toward a male or female germline lineage (primordial germ cells are the precursors of sperm and eggs.) They then used the technique to produce early egg- and sperm-like cells in a test tube. This was the first time such a technique had been tried out. Reportedly the results were efficient and consistent.
Pluripotent stem cells hold great promise in the field of regenerative medicine. Because they can propagate indefinitely, as well as give rise to every other cell type in the body (such as neurons, heart, pancreatic, and liver cells), they represent a single source of cells that could be used to replace those lost to damage or disease.
The new discovery could one day help with overcoming infertility. Furthermore, although firmly in theory, the process could be used to derive egg cells from a man's body. These could then be fertilized by another man's sperm and the resulting embryo could then be implanted in a surrogate mother, enabling the two men to have a biological child together.
However, in the U.S. (and most other nations) law forbids the creation of human embryos for research purposes. For the next wave of research, the scientists are limiting themselves to improving the method.
The findings have been published in the journal Cell, in a paper titled “SOX17 Is a Critical Specifier of Human Primordial Germ Cell Fate.”
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