Sarah Harvey

Skin cells provide new hope for infertile men

INFERTILE men could in future be offered a new form of treatment based on converting their skin cells into the sperm-making tissue that is missing in their testicles, scientists have said.

A study has found that it is possible to convert skin cells into male "germ cells" which are responsible for sperm production, using an established technique for creating embryonic-like stem cells, in a form of genetic engineering.

The research, published in the journal Cell Reports, showed that stem cells derived from human skin become active germ cells when transplanted into the testes of mice - even when the man suffers from a genetic condition where he lacks functioning germ cells in his own testes.

Although the mice had functioning human male germ cells, they did not produce human sperm, said Renee Reijo Pera, of Montana State University, who led the study.

"There is an evolutionary block that means that when germ cells from one species are transferred to another, there is not full spermatogenesis unless the species are very closely related," she added.