Offering hope to cancer survivors and other sterile men who want to become fathers, scientists say they are close to being able to create an artificial testicle that could copy the sperm production process outside the body.
Scientists say they’ve been able to show that stem cells can survive and thrive for over a month in an artificial human testicle.
“We are trying to recreate the normal sperm production process outside the body,” says Paul Turek, M.D., director and founder of The Turek Clinic, who is also a husband and father.
He along with Dr. Constance M. John, president of MandalMed, received federal funding to develop a bioassay for testing the effects of chemicals on male reproduction.
The team used an artificial environment made from human cells–the artificial human testicle–to nurture stem cells. They began the experiments with human embryonic stem cells which lived for 42 days and inched their way towards sperm precursor cells, all outside of the human body.
The long-term goal is to produce patient-specific sperm for men who are sterile due to cancer chemotherapy or from genetic causes. In the short term, the artificial testicle might be better way to assess the reproductive toxicity of drugs and chemicals than current methods, which rely on animal testing, the researchers say.
The researchers admit that they have a long way to go before making human sperm in a dish. “Sperm live in a very complex environment that is very difficult to duplicate,” notes Dr. Cyril Ramathal, an author on the study.