London: Scientists have for the first time grown mouse sperm in a laboratory, a major breakthrough they claim may soon pave the way for production of artificial human semen that could help infertile men father their own children.
An international team, led by Professor Stefan Schlatt at Muenster University in Germany, claims to have grown mouse sperm by using few germ cells in a laboratory dish. These are the cells in testicles responsible for semen production.
In fact, the scientists grew the sperm by surrounding the germ cells in a special compound called agar jelly to create an environment similar to that found in testicles.
Mahmoud Huleihel, a team member from Israel`s Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, said: "We were able to produce viable sperm that could have been used to create baby mice. The sperm appeared healthy and were not genetically damaged.
"I believe it will eventually be possible to routinely grow human male sperm to order by extracting tissue containing germ cells from a man`s testicle and stimulating sperm production in the laboratory."
Now, the scientists, whose findings are published in the latest edition of the `Asian Journal of Andrology`, have begun experiments that they claim would hopefully lead to the "Holy Grail" -- human sperm grown outside a man`s body.
"We have already applied the same tests as we did with mice in the laboratory, using human cells, but as yet have not had success. We are confident that if it can be done in a mammal such as a mouse it can be done in humans.
"We are experimenting with a number of different compounds to get the germ cells to grow into sperm. And we believe it will be possible. And, hopefully soon," Prof Huleihel said.
Experts have welcomed the breakthrough. Stephen Gordon, a leading male infertility consultant, was quoted as saying, "This is an amazing development that could revolutionise fertility treatment and allow every man to be a natural father.
"Infertile men naturally want to be the father of their child but at present have to accept that can`t happen. With the mouse discovery, that could now be a possibility."
Professor Richard Sharpe, one of the UK`s top fertility scientists, based at Edinburgh University, who hopes to work on the project, added: "This is a significant step forward towards making human sperm."