Lab Grown Sperm: Fact or Fiction?
A Symphony of Biology
Compare spermatogenesis to a symphony score, but a masterful one, like a work of Beethoven or Sibelius. Exquisitely orchestrated, with complex movements performed by a sea of instrumentalists. And the harmonic result? A fully formed sperm.
The press release announcing the feat was disappointingly bereft of details. Were all the score’s movements included? Were all of the instrumentalists there? Were the instruments in tune? How did the piece sound? Could they repeat the symphony the next evening?
In science, accepted measures of quality (and therefore truthfulness) are honesty, transparency, reproducibility and publishability. These measures are vetted mainly through peer review, an essential step in turning biological fashion into fact. Of course, evidence of safety follows closely behind. Unfortunately, regarding this discovery, none of these qualities of good science have been revealed to us as yet.
But let’s dream a little anyway. If genetically healthy, fully formed and mature human sperm were made from early germ cells (spermatogonia) derived from testis biopsies, then we know that at least one of three major stem cell types (testicular) can be used to make sperm. The jury is still out on whether adult-derived (skin) stem cells can do likewise, and men do not possess the mother-lode of stem cells, the embryonic kind, for personal use.
So, if what was announced is true, that means that men with azoospermia who harbor early germ cells but not sperm might able to be biological fathers in the future. This technology will not benefit patients without testicular stem cells (Sertoli cell only pattern) but is still a great leap forward in the field. Although not over yet, may the fat lady sing soon in this opera.