It has been said that we, like many other living creatures, were put on this good earth to eat, sleep and reproduce. In a minimalist, animalistic and mechanistic way, everything else is we do to make the world a better place is icing on the cake. Of course, we have free will and we can choose not to do any or all of these organic functions. However, I personally have not met anyone who has successfully avoided all three.
The Problem with Reproduction
In the big picture, what exactly does it mean if we try to reproduce and are unable to? With women, age is a clear determinant of fertility. They are born with all the eggs they will ever have, and when they run out fertility is no longer possible.
However, with men, the system is entirely different. The healthy adult human male makes 1200 sperm/heartbeat right up until andropause (7th to 8th decade) with new sperm produced constantly. So, when young men can’t reproduce because sperm production has ground to a halt, one has to wonder why such an important organic function is compromised. And this has led to boatloads of research over the last several decades into its causes and treatments, to the benefit of both patients and science.
The White Paper on Reproduction
A white paper is an authoritative report that helps solve a problem. White papers try to educate readers and help people make decisions. And I am delighted to announce that a white paper has recently been produced by the NIH regarding the issues surrounding infertility. As you may recall from prior posts, we met several months back in the middle of winter at the NIH headquarters in Washington DC, with the charge of identifying key opportunities in science that will define way we examine reproductive health over the next decade. At this meeting, I led a session on how infertility relates to overall health in men and women. Well, ta da, we now have the official White Paper from this meeting for your review at: www.NICHD.NIH.gov/vision.
White Paper Themes
Here are some of the overall themes of the white paper. What is very satisfying for me is the fact that several of my initiatives were carried through to the white paper:
- Overall health affects reproductive health, and reproductive health affects overall health.
- Reproductive and sexual health is essential to our wellbeing and serves as a window to overall health in males and females
- Reproductive research is the cornerstone of stem cell research and is central to the field of regenerative medicine
- Fundamental and applied contraceptive research is critical to this initiative as half of pregnancies in the US are currently unintended and unwanted
- A better understanding of human development is necessary to reduce the incidence of adult male and female infertility
- The effects of infertility on quality of life should be examined more thoroughly in future studies
- We need to develop a national database of prospectively collected reproductive health data (e.g., an NIH social health network).
Now it’s your turn. Do your country and me a favor and take a couple of minutes and glance at the white paper. Tell us if it’s on or off the mark. Send your comments to NICHDvision@mail.nih.gov. We need your opinion to help direct this science over the next decade.