Ethical storm flares as British scientists create artificial sperm from human stem cells
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.
Nowadays it sounds quaint to say that birth control is wrong because it separates sex from reproduction – but once they get separated . . .