Eugenics - Human Sperm Created in British Lab (Video)
British scientists claim a first in medical history by using embryonic stem cells to create human sperm in a laboratory. Researchers at Newcastle Uni hope it will help infertile couples but it has sparked an ethical debate. Sky's Gerard Tubb reports.
In a world first, British scientists have grown human sperm in the laboratory.
The breakthrough in stem cell science offers a potential cure for male infertility and could be used in IVF clinics in as little as five years.
It would allow thousands of men to father children that are genetically their own, possibly from just a sliver of their skin.
But the cutting-edge work is fraught with medical and ethical problems.
It raises the possibility of babies being born entirely through artificial means, and even the macabre scenario of long-dead men 'fathering' children from beyond the grave.
The Newcastle University work centres on stem cells - 'blank' cells with the ability to turn into other cell types.
Biologist Karim Nayernia created a cocktail of chemicals and vitamins that turned human stem cells into sperm, the journal Stem Cells and Development reports today.
Viewed through a microscope, they have heads and tails and swim like normal sperm, and Professor Nayernia is 'convinced' they would be capable of fertilising eggs and creating babies.
He has more safety checks to carry out but plans to apply for permission to use some of the artificial sperm to fertilise eggs for research purposes.
The stem cells used were taken from embryos in the first days of life but the professor hopes to repeat his success with skin cells taken from a man's arm. These would first be exposed to a mixture that wound back their biological clocks to embryonic stem cell state, before being transformed into sperm.
Using IVF techniques, the artificial sperm could be injected into eggs, allowing men who do not produce sperm to father children of their own.
However, British law forbids the use of lab-grown sperm or eggs in fertility treatment - a situation the researchers believe needs to change.
Lab-grown sperm could also shed light on the causes of infertility, leading to new treatments for the heartbreaking but little-understood condition that affects one in six couples.
Identification of a flaw in the sperm-making process could lead to the creation of a 'miracle pill' to boost fertility.
Professor Nayernia said: 'This is an important development as it will allow researchers to study in detail how sperm forms and lead to a better understanding of infertility in men - why it happens and what is causing it.
Male infertility is a growing problem and no one knows why. We'll be able to study the effects of pollution and nutrition in the lab.'
But the researcher also acknowledged that the technique could potentially be applied to skin cells taken from men who have been dead for many years, allowing them to 'father' children.
He said: 'This is the Jurassic Park scenario. In theory this would be possible but human reproduction is not a purely biological process. We have to think of the psychological, social and ethical considerations.'
The Newcastle team tried to create sperm from stem cells from female embryos but failed - suggesting that men will always have an important role in the creation of life.
But, in time, it may be possible to create eggs from a woman's stem cells, raising the possibility of artificial eggs and sperm being combined to create children through entirely artificial means.
Rival stem cell experts questioned whether the professor had created fully-functioning sperm and warned that similar experiments on mice had led to the birth of young with a host of health problems.
Opponents said it was wrong to meddle with the creation of human life. Josephine Quintavalle, of campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: 'To take a viable human embryo and destroy it in a bid to create dodgy sperm to create a not-so-healthy embryo is experimentation for experimentation's sake.
'Infertility is an issue we have to address but this is not an ethical solution. If the solution involves the sacrifice of human life, then it should be apparent to anyone that it is unacceptable.'
Dr Trevor Stammers, a GP and lecturer in healthcare ethics, warned that the technology could be 'used and abused' to create children who did not know who their father was.
And he said there were easier ways of tackling fertility problems.
He said: 'Obviously there are men who through no bad habits or indulgences find themselves with a fertility problem but alcohol, smoking and drug misuse don't help.
'Alcohol alone is a huge cause of infertility in men.'
Human Cells + Animal Cells = ?
U.S. company claims it cloned humans
Obama to Lift Ban on Funding for Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Now scientists create a sheep that's 15% human
British scientists to create synthetic blood
Hybrid embryos could be created within months
In A First, Scientists Develop Tiny Implantable Biocomputers
We have created human-animal embryos already, say British team
Science's new blend mixes man and beast
Magnetic field found to stimulate brain cells
Dolly the Sheep Creator Knighted
Green light for hybrid research
Legal loophole in embryology bill could pave the way for human-ape hybrids
Artificial life likely in 3 to 10 years
Chimera embryos have right to life, say bishops
Why Embryonic Stem Cell Research? It's About Human Engineering, Not Ending Disease
Latest News from our Front Page
Galaxy Poll: 86 per cent of Australians want childhood vaccination to be compulsory?
Australians want Prime Minister Tony Abbott to make childhood vaccination compulsory and close loopholes that allow vaccine refusers to put all children at risk.
An exclusive national Galaxy poll commissioned by The Sunday Telegraph has revealed overwhelming support to ensure every child is vaccinated.
The highest support for compulsory jabs is in South Australia, where 90 per cent support the call.
The poll ...
Eye in the sky: Local police now using drones to spy on citizens
The Harris County Precinct 1 Constable's Office is doing something that no other agency in Harris County is believed to have done yet: Use drones to help fight crime.
It's an eye in the sky for law enforcement, without giving up the element of surprise.
"It could absolutely save lives," says Constable Alan Rosen.
Rosen says the agency's two new $1,200 drones, which ...
New Zealander of the Year: refuse vaccines, lose money
Following in the footsteps of Australia, 2014 New Zealander of the Year, Dr. Lance O’Sullivan, wants to punish people who don’t get vaccinated.
The New Zealand Herald (4/15) reports:
“A leading New Zealand doctor has called on the Government to follow Australia’s example to cut child welfare payments to families who do not vaccinate their children, saying the policy would help protect ...
Iris Scanner Identifies a Person 40 Feet Away
Police traffic stops are in the news again, tragically, sparking a new round of discussion on whether and how to outfit police with cameras and other technology.
For several years now, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab Biometrics Center have been testing an iris recognition system that can be used to identify subjects at a range of up to 40 feet.
Yes, You Can Catch Insanity
One day in March 2010, Isak McCune started clearing his throat with a forceful, violent sound. The New Hampshire toddler was 3, with a Beatles mop of blonde hair and a cuddly, loving personality. His parents had no idea where the guttural tic came from. They figured it was springtime allergies.
Soon after, Isak began to scream as if in pain ...
|More News » |