Lab-grown sperm raises hope for infertile men
• New machine keeps lungs-for-transplant working outside body for up to 24 hours
• Virus-based malaria vaccine shows promise in early trial
SPERM cells have been grown in the laboratory for the first time, raising the prospect of treatment for infertile men, scientists have claimed.
A company in France claims to have successfully turned scraps of genetic material into complete fully-functional sperm, a world-first.
If the breakthrough can be verified, it may prove life-changing for the tens of thousands of men around the world who cannot produce their own sperm.
The Kallistem Laboratory, a private research facility based in Lyon, claimed it would be able to carry out human clinical trials within two years.
According to a report published in DailyMailOnline, if commercialised, the firm hopes to treat 50,000 patients a year, a market that could be worth £1.7 billion.
But the findings have not been published, peer reviewed or independently verified – and British experts last night were treating the claims with scepticism.
Kallistem said it had managed to transform basic male fertility cells, called spermatogonia, into mature sperm in test tubes.
The procedure may help the many men who cannot develop sperm themselves.
Also, a British hospital is using cutting-edge medical technology to keep lungs ‘breathing’ outside the body for as long as 24 hours.
The extraordinary breakthrough could save the lives of hundreds of patients.
Medical experts say the technique could double the number of lung transplants that take place each year.
It is being put into practice at London hospital, the Royal Brompton and Harefield, which last year introduced another technique which can help keep donor hearts alive.
Donor organs have commonly been placed in a cool box and packed in ice to stop them deteriorating when being transported between hospitals before transplantation surgery.
This method allows the organs to remain outside the body for a maximum of six hours.
But the groundbreaking Organ Care System (OCS) can keep the donor lungs breathing for a full day.
The OCS machine works by keeping the lungs in effectively the same conditions they would be in the body.
The lungs are placed in a portable sealed plastic box with a pump inside that provides a constant supply of blood to the organ.
A ventilator in the container inflates and deflates the lungs.
Medical experts say this ‘breathing lung’ technology can improve the organ’s condition.
It also opens the possibility that lungs could be transported long distances, and still be in a good enough state for transplantation at the end of the journey.
At present – due to damage during surgery and transportation – just 20 per cent of lungs from donors are suitable to be used.
Also, a field trial of a new malaria vaccine that uses viruses carrying malaria antigen to stimulate the immune system to resist the pathogen has reported promising early results.
The new vaccine was 67 per cent effective against one of the parasites that causes malaria.
The international consortium conducting the Kenyan trial reports its findings in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
The vaccine – developed by the Jenner Institute at Oxford University in the United Kingdom (UK) – was found to be 67 per cent effective at protecting against infection by Plasmodium falciparum, one of the parasites that causes malaria.
Malaria is a disease that results from the bite of a female mosquito carrying a Plasmodium parasite.
A safe and effective malaria vaccine would do much to reduce the huge social and economic burden of a disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people a year – most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa.
Following decades of research, this is now the second malaria vaccine to show promise in recent trials. Another vaccine – recently tested in more advanced trials – was shown to be partially effective in protecting children for up to four years.
Isabelle Cuoc, the Kallistem laboratory’s Chief Executive Officer, said: “Kallistem is addressing a major issue whose impacts are felt worldwide: The treatment of male infertility.
“Our team is the first in the world to have developed the technology required to obtain fully formed spermatozoa (sperm) in vitro with sufficient yield for IVF.
“This is a major scientific outcome that enhances both our credibility and our development potential.
“We are targeting a global market worth several billion euros in which there are currently no players.”
Just four pints of lager a week could harm a man’s chances of having a family, research suggests.
A study of healthy young men found that drinking just a little more than three pints a week, or half a pint a day, can reduce sperm quality.
The researchers found the effects occurred when more than 7.5 units of alcohol a week – with the average pint of beer containing around 2.3 units.
However, many popular lagers are stronger than this. For instance, a pint of Stella Artois lager contains 2.7 units – meaning that fewer than three pints a week may be harmful.
The study also found that the more a man drinks, the greater the toll on sperm.
The Danish researchers said that given the large amounts of alcohol drunk by young men, their finding is a public health concern.