Artificial reproduction: research by sorcerer’s apprentices

Researchers at the Valence Institute in Spain and at the American University in Stanford, California, have announced succeeding in developing human spermatozoids from skin cells. This work was published April 26 in Scientific Reports, the online journal of the review Nature.

To obtain this result, adult skin cells were collected, and « reprogrammed » to become germ cells, then spermatozoids, using a cellular reprogramming technique called “IPS” developed by Yamanaka and John Gurdon, respectively Japanese and British Nobel Prize winners in Medicine in 2012.

The resulting spermatozoids are not yet able to fecundate. “It is a spermatozoid but it requires a supplementary maturation phase to become a gamete. It’s only the beginning” explained Carlos Simon, the scientific director for the Infertility Institute in Valence.

To carry on with these studies, the team plans to continue their research in Great Britain, since the following step, the creation of an “artificial embryo” is authorized in that country.

The objective of this technique is to overcome some forms of sterility. “This is the problem we intend to tackle: creating gametes for those who do not have any”, asserts the Spanish researcher. Other unprecedented possibilities are visible, such as creating embryos from the gametes of two individuals of the same sex.

Producing spermatozoids from various components is a challenge that numerous research teams in the world would like to meet. However, these techniques are raising serious ethical issues, since the result of such experiments is nothing less than the artificial creation of a new human being.