Functional Human Germ Cells Created in the Laboratory for the First Time

Stanford University School of Medicine, Center for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research and Education, has released results of their recent research showing the ability to take embryonic stem cells and prod them to become functional human germ cells, the antecedent to egg and sperm cells. This was done in the laboratory ushering in new possibilities for infertile couples.

Results from previous research were only able to create immature germ cells, not enough for fertility. Cells from this recent study were healthy enough to be able to actually create sperm cells opening up the possibility of breakthroughs in the understanding of infertility and leading to knowledge needed to help more infertile couples conceive.

An estimated 10 to 15 per cent of couples struggle with infertility and half of those exhibits the inability to generate eggs or sperm. Further, most birth defects are caused during the development of the eggs or sperm.

Studying human fertility has been hampered by the fact that it cannot be studied in animals, as many other processes can. One of the reasons is that germ cells start forming within only eight to 10 weeks after conception

Findings of the study, which are published in the October 28 issue of Nature magazine, will help researchers investigate the effects of environmental toxins on germ cell differentiation and gamete development. Other researchers plan on using a similar strategy to optimize the production of eggs from embryonic stem cells

Funding for this research was provided by the National Institutes of Health, the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program, and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.