Can ‘Test Tube’ Sperm Help Lesbian Couples Have Babies Without Men?

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April V. Taylor

According to multiple news sources, French scientists are claiming to have grown mature human sperm in a test tube, representing a breakthrough that could drastically change the lives of men facing infertility. The team of scientists report that the lab-fabricated sperm could be available for treatment of young cancer patients as well as others sometime within the next four years if things actually work out.

The breakthrough was announced by researchers who have been working with a top government lab in Lyon, France after the team took out a patent for the discovery late last week following more than a decade of research. According to researcher Philippe Durand, the team used biopsies from testes to culture cells that they then developed into full sperm. Durand stated, “We have produced a meaningful amount of sperm that could be of use clinically.”

Senior French national center for scientific research (CNRS) researcher Marie-Helene Perrard reports that young men with cancer are the first patients who will be treated using the breakthrough. Perrard says their fertility could be preserved by freezing immature cells and then later developing them into mature sperm.

Some experts have been critical of the announcement, pointing out that it is impossible to know if the quality of the sperm is good enough until the findings of the experiment are officially published in a peer-reviewed journal. Sheffield University professor Allan Pacey told the Independent, “It’s a bold claim to make and until I’m able to see the published research I’m deeply skeptical. The only decent thing for the science and for the public is for them to show us all the evidence.”

Infertility expert Nathalie Rives also voiced concern, stating, “We are not there yet. Before this technique can find any practical application, it must be proven to work with cells from the testes of prepubescent boys and men who have trouble generating sperm.”

In terms of addressing the future role of men in the reproductive process and whether or not they could be eliminated completely, Newcastle University scientist Karim Nayernia says that, “In theory it would be possible [to dispense with men], but only if you want to produce a population all the same size and shape [because they have the same male genetic origin]….We are doing this research to help infertile men, not to replace a reproductive process.”

According to the report, “efforts to produce sperm from female stem cells failed. It had been thought the technique might allow lesbian couples to have their own biological children but the researchers say the genes on the Y (male) chromosome are essential to sperm maturation.” This means getting rid of males entirely is not an option simply because of the new breakthrough; men are still a necessary part of the reproductive process, even if sperm can now be grown in a test tube.

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