Home » Science & Technology » Scientists create lab-grown sperm, but don't cheer just yet

Scientists create lab-grown sperm, but don't cheer just yet

Ranjan Crasta | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 4:42 IST

Type the word 'sperm' into Google and the vast majority of auto-complete suggestions - from sperm count to sperm donor - relate to infertility.

Clearly it's a problem that not too many want to talk about openly but enough people face for it to make its way into Google's search algorithms.

And luckily for the unlucky lot who seem to have lost their mojo, scientists may have once again saved the day.

A team of scientists in Lyon, France, claim to have created the world's first laboratory-grown human sperm from basic reproductive cells.

The scientists, working for Kallistem Biotech, believe their breakthrough will eventually lead to a treatment for male infertility. They've even gone so far as to patent their method - a method, they say, took 20 years to perfect.

The procedure consists of recreating the fluid that exists in seminiferous tubules, the micro-structures that produce sperm inside the male testes, and then using this fluid to get immature germ cells called spermatogonia to develop into fully grown sperm cells.

The scientists obtained the spermatogonia from biopsies of infertile men. The company's statement claims it successfully managed to produce fully formed sperm as early as 2014.

If proven, the breakthrough is a mammoth one on the infertility front.

In 40% of couples facing fertility problems, the male partner is the sole cause or a major contributor. Kallistem's breakthrough would allow infertile males to extract reproductive cells, freezing and storing them for whenever they wish to father children.

Don't get your hopes up just yet

Despite the French company's claims, couples worldwide would be better off not getting their hopes up.

Even though Kallistem has gone public with their claims and secured a patent, they still have no idea how functional the artificially-created sperm is. Even while the company claims the sperm is "morphologically normal", meaning it looks fine, there have still been no tests on whether they're actually functional.

Scientists will now begin a battery of laboratory tests to compare the lab-grown sperm with actual functional male sperm to see how it measures up. In addition the team, who claim to have reproduced the procedure with both rats and monkeys, will test the sperm on rats to see if it works.

It took 20 years, but French firm Kallistem Biotech say they've patented lab-grown sperm

Clinical trials on humans are a way away with Kallistem having to traipse their way through a minefield of both scientific and ethical issues.

But that's assuming the method actually works. Scientists across the board are currently skeptical of the claims made by the French company; a suspicion arising from the fact that the company is yet to publish their findings in a single peer-reviewed journal.

Even if the procedure is proven to work, it'll still be years before it becomes available as a treatment. And even then, it's unlikely to address the problems of men suffering from genetic anomalies that result in a complete lack of sperm.

And for all you men worried you'd be made redundant by the breakthrough, relax, they still need your junk to do it.

First published: 19 September 2015, 5:53 IST
Ranjan Crasta @jah_crastafari

The Ranjan (Beardus Horribilis) is a largely land-dwelling herbivorous mammal. Originally from a far more tropical habitat, the Ranjan can now be found wandering the streets of Delhi complaining about the weather, looking for watering holes and foraging for affordable snacks. Mostly human, mostly happy and mostly harmless, the Ranjan is prone to mood swings when deprived of his morning coffee. Having recently migrated to the Catch offices, he now inhabits a shadowy corner and spends his time distracting people and producing video content to distract them further.