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Scientists Produce Sperm Cells from Human Skin

May 03, 2014 07:35 AM EDT

In a startling breakthrough, scientists figured out a way to produce sperm cells from human skin, giving infertile men hope that they may be able to one day have children of their own.

In 2012, a team of scientists from the University of Pittsburgh was the first to discover that early stages of sperm cell can be derived from the skin tissue of fertile men. However, the latest study, published in journal Cell Reports,concludes such methods could also succeed in infertile men.

"Infertility is remarkably common, affecting 10 to 15 percent of couples," senior author Renee Reijo Pera, professor of neurobiology at Montana State University (MSU), said in a press release. "And the genetic causes of infertility are surprisingly prevalent among men. So progress in this area could potentially help thousands, if not millions, of couples around the world."

Each of the men in the study suffered from azoospermia, also known as "no sperm count," a condition that prevents them from making mature sperm. It affects 1 percent of the male population.

MSU researchers took skin samples from five men to create induced pluripotent stem cells, a type of cell that can develop into nearly any human cell. Three of the men carried a type of mutation on their Y chromosome known to prevent the production of sperm and the other two were fertile.

The team then implanted the stem cells into the testes of mice where they produced the precursors to sperm, although they didn't fully develop into mature sperm (most likely due to difference between humans and mice). The experiment, which was conducted at Stanford University, was the "first time such work has ever been done."

"We saw better germ-cell differentiation in this transplantation model than we've ever seen," Reijo Pera said in a statement.

The study's findings could potentially help scientists learn more about the causes and hopefully treatments for infertility in men.

There is also the possibility of using cells from endangered species to help boost their reproduction, the study authors said. 

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