Is the manufactyre of sperm from stem-cells a dream or a feasible reality?

New research carried out at Hillel Yaffe Medical Center has found that the possibility definitely exists. The implications of this are that a future possibility exists of the growth of normal sperm cells from these stem-cells
Dr. Adrian Ellenbogen and Dr. Ketty Chelouche at the IVF Unit


Research carried out in the IVF Unit of the Hillel Yaffe Medical Center has found that even men, who do not produce any sperm cells, are nevertheless producing stem-cells. The implications of this are that a future possibility exists of the growth of normal sperm cells from these stem-cells. The significance of this is that it gives hope to men thought to be incapable of bringing children into the world due to lack of sperm manufacturing capacity. At Hillel Yaffe they are already planning the follow-up research. 


The research, which was conducted in the Hillel Yaffe Medical Center's Dr. Adrian Ellenbogen Ex- Body Fertility Unit, by Dr. Ketty Chelouche, Senior Physician of the Unit in collaboration with the Medical Center's Pathology Institute, testicle tissue of men with fertility problems of two different kinds was examined. At the conclusion of the research it was found that even among non-sperm producing males stem-cells still exist. The future significance of this finding is that the possibility exists of taking out  these stem-cells, attempting to grow them under laboratory conditions until a normal sperm cell is obtained. The implications are obvious, namely that even men currently thought to be totally infertile will be able to bring children into the world.  


Stem-cells, or master cells (as they are referred to in clinical research) are the basic cell in our bodies and in the bodies of the majority of us they produce most of the cells. These constitute the initial source of the creation of tissue, which after they are sorted, and become specific cells with various functions in our bodies. 


"When we began the research" says Dr. Chelouche, "we were surprised to discover that despite the sphere of stem-cells being one of the most researched subjects in the world today, the area of stem-cell research of sperm cells in the context of male infertility, is an almost un-researched subject. When I spoke with Dr. Ellenbogen he told me that about new research that had been presented in 2009 at the Annual Conference of the American Fertility Research Association, which had examined stem-cells from biopsies from the testicles of healthy males, and he suggested that I carry out similar research among men suffering from fertility problems, a subject which as mentioned, has almost never been researched".


How was the research carried out and what are its conclusions?  


For the purposes of the research profiles from testicle biopsies (TESE) were examined., taken as part of the selection of sperm deficiency among men undergoing external fertility treatment together with their partners. The patients were divided into two groups:  

  1. Men suffering from a sperm deficiency as a result of a blockage problem but who were producing normal sperm within the testicle.
  2. Men suffering from a sperm deficiency as a result of a problem of producing sperm within the testicle itself.

The quantity of stem-cells in the testicle was examined in both of the groups. To the surprise of the researchers stem-cells of sperm cells were found in both groups of patients. More stem-cells were found in the first group, but stem-cells were also found in the second group (albeit of a smaller quantity) despite it being known that the production of sperm in this group is more faulty or even totally non-existent. Because it is now known that healthy cells can be grown from normal stem-cells, it is likely that these findings will have considerable impact and importance for men with fertility problems due to a lack of sperm production.  


The research was presented in 2010, by Dr. Chelouche, at the Annual Conference of the American Fertility Research Association, and attracted wide interest.   


One of the most surprising interested parties who made contact was a man from Kuwait, suffering from infertility the source of which was non-production of sperm. He had heard about the research and contacted the IVF Unit at "Hillel Yaffe" in order to examine the possibility of our helping him in the "growth of his sperm" in the framework of future research being planned by the Unit.  


Where do we go from here?  


Dr. Ellenbogen and Dr. Chelouche are indeed on the verge of doing future research the object of which will be the growth of sperm cells from stem cells in the testicles and their classification into mature sperm cells.  

"We acknowledge that it is by no means certain that future research will be as fruitful as one might expect", agree Dr. Ellenbogen and Dr. Chelouche, "but due to the fact that the whole subject of stem-cells and their growth has developed very rapidly in recent years, there is no doubt that the results of our initial  research do provide a future source of hope in this sphere. We therefore also hope that future research will indeed be effective and successful. Obviously there is still a long way to go".                                

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