A Sperm Making Thing-a-ma-bob

You can patent a widget, or even a doohickey. Dr Seuss probably could have patented the yuzz-a-matuzz, the diffendoofer, the wumbus and the wocket from his children’s books. But can you really patent an artificial human testicle?
We did. Very recently, in fact. The issue notice has duly arrived, just in time for Father’s Day! Yessiree, just 6 sweaty years after we submitted the application, my Stanford collaborators and I were issued a patent for “reducing to practice” years of thoughtful scientific research about how to make sperm in a dish.

Just Another Thing-a-ma-jig?

Is this another doohickey patent? Or is this one going to be useful? We think the latter. For one, a stem cell-based system that makes sperm outside of the human body could safely test for the toxicity of new drugs, of which there are 800 annually seeking market approval in the U.S. alone. Currently, animal testing is needed to determine drug reproductive toxicity, but what happens in animals may not (and often doesn’t) happen in humans. The artificial testicle could eliminate animal testing and give better, more relevant information about the side effects of drugs in the species that takes them.
And, here’s the grand vision: to develop real live sperm for patients who have none due to genetic or acquired causes and—perchance—to cure the world of male infertility! Believe it or not, functional and fertile mice sperm have already been made in a dish, but humans arewelldifferent. For reasons that we don’t know yet, but somehow all understand down deep, we are a bit more “complicated.”
I’m proud of this patent and especially proud of the team that made it happen. This patent recognizes the value of our work, the huge effort we have been making to unravel a scientific holy grail and also to let more fathers enjoy Father’s Day. In the words of the inimitable Dr. Seuss: “Think left and think right, and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!” So, to Dads and Dads-to-be: Happy Father’s Day!
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