London: Researchers have succeeded in making early-stage sperms from human skin tissue that could potentially help thousands of infertile men, including survivors of childhood cancer, father children that are genetically their own.
By unlocking the intricacies of male reproduction, the breakthrough could also lead to new contraceptives and a ‘miracle pill’ to treat infertility.
However, the science is also fraught with moral and ethical concerns, the Daily Mail reported.
Critics argue that it is wrong to meddle with the building blocks of life and warn of a future in which babies are created through entirely artificial means.
Scientists have already succeeded in coaxing embryonic stem cells, which are master cells plucked from embryos in their first days of life, into turning into sperm.
Using skin as a starting point would be more ethically acceptable as it would also mean the sperm would have the man’s genes.
For the study, the American scientists used a cocktail of chemicals to wind back the ‘biological clock’ in skin cells, turning them into cells with the chameleon-like powers of embryonic stem cells.
They then used a combination of nutrients to coax them to developing into round cells which were just a few steps away from mature sperms and appeared genetically normal.
Led by Dr James Easley, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine team believe they have cracked the most difficult part of sperm development.
This means that by altering the procedure it should now be relatively easy to get to the next stage – elongated cells that, while yet to grow tails, should be able to fertilise eggs.
The technique is still many years away from use in clinics and, as the law stands, lab-grown sperm are banned from use in the UK.
The study has been published in the journal Cell Reports.