British Scientists Manufacture Human Sperm

(Telegraph) – BRITISH SCIENTISTS HAVE CREATED HUMAN SPERM using stem cells in a medical first that could revolutionize fertility treatment, they claim.

Researchers at the pioneering Northeast England Stem Cell Institute say they have made the breakthrough using stem cells from an embryo.

They claim that, with some minor changes, the sperm could theoretically fertilise an egg to create a child.

Within 10 years, the scientists say, the technique could also be used to allow infertile couples to have children that are genetically their own. It could even be possible to create sperm from female stem cells, they say — which would ultimately mean a woman having a baby without a man.

This is the first time human sperm has been created anywhere in the world in a laboratory. However, the experiment has proved controversial, threatening to reopen the fierce debate over embryo research.

Last night, the scientific community was divided over its merits, with campaigners questioning the ethics and fellow scientists querying its validity, despite describing the work itself as ‘very important.’

The medical breakthrough, which is reported in the respected journal Stem Cells and Development, is the latest from the institute, which is made up of the Newcastle and Durham Universities along with the Newcastle NHS Foundation.

Led by the leading stem cell biologist Professor Karim Nayernia, the team has already used the technique in mice, which have then gone on to produce offspring.

Professor Nayernia, who is calling for a debate on the use of his breakthrough, said the sperm created was not perfect; but had all the essential qualities for creating life.

Under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFEA) 2008, using artificial sperm and eggs in fertility treatment is banned. It is legal to create sperm in the laboratory; but to combine it with an egg to create an embryo for scientific research requires a licence. Even then the embryo must be destroyed within 14 days.

There is an absolute ban on the use of artificial sperm and eggs used in fertility treatment as the HFEA scientists believe there are still ‘significant safety concerns.’ The ethical concerns have yet to be decided on.

Some experts cast doubt on the claims from Newcastle, arguing that the cells did not constitute ‘authentic’ sperm with all the necessary biological characteristics.

Josephine Quintavalle, director of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said that the research was ‘totally wrong.’

‘This is man at his maddest,’ she said. ‘I think that sometimes we have to stop meddling and accept infertility. Science must be totally ethical and totally safe — this is neither.’

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