Sunday, March 27, 2011

Scientific Breakthrough in Male Fertility: How Will This Be Received by the Women Haters of the Right Wing?

Scientists at Newcastle University have made
medical history by using stem cell research
to create human sperm. Pictured is a
microscope image of artificial sperm
photo courtesy of the mail online article, UK

I was intrigued to read about this, as I have an ongoing interest in theriogenology - the veterinary specialty relating to reproductive science.  But I couldn't help wondering how this new scientific potential will translate into public policy if the current conservatives maintain their ideology-driven anti-science strangle hold on funding, and restriction. 

I would predict that like the public funding of crudely styled 'boner pills' for treating erectile dysfunction, Viagra, Cialis, and so on, that this treatment for male infertility will receive at least some applause on the right in their rush to promote every possible occurrence of human reproduction - and male empowerment.  So, while the right has objections to in vitro fertilization and to nearly all forms of stem cell research, this should produce some difficult temptations for them to overcome any ethical prohibitions against it.  Male reproductive medicine appears to receive far greater sympathy on the right, and funding, than female reproductive needs; and any medical procedure or product which promotes reproduction seems to find support on the right, while any measure for female health, especially that enabling control of reproduction, including all forms of contraception, appear to generate opposition and hostility, not support and not funding.  They appear to embrace all possibilities for reproduction, while being oddly opposed to human sexuality in many of its more common and natural forms.

Woody Allen, as a spermatozoa in
"Everything You Always Wanted
to Know About Sex*
But Were Afraid to Ask"
 While this is not yet a technology that benefits humans, it is almost certainly only a matter of time.  There seems to be some disagreement over who grew sperm from testicular tissue first - the Japanese or the British; both claim 'firsts' - see below:
Sing along now - you know you want to!
(Newser)  – Japanese researchers have grown sperm in the laboratory for the first time, reports Nature. If the breakthrough with mice transfers to humans, it could open up IVF treatments for infertile men, notes the Guardian. Scientists created the sperm from the testicular tissue of mice and successfully produced a dozen baby mice with it.

The tissue worked even after being frozen, suggesting that men—or even boys too young to produce sperm—could freeze tissue for later use if they were undergoing chemotherapy or other treatments that can cause infertility. "The report is quite exciting because it represents the fulfillment of a goal held by many reproductive biologists over many years," says an expert in the field at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine.

and from the Mail Online:
In a world first, British scientists have grown human sperm in the laboratory.

The breakthrough in stem cell science offers a potential cure for male infertility and could be used in IVF clinics in as little as five years.

It would allow thousands of men to father children that are genetically their own, possibly from just a sliver of their skin.

But the cutting-edge work is fraught with medical and ethical problems.

It raises the possibility of babies being born entirely through artificial means, and even the macabre scenario of long-dead men 'fathering' children from beyond the grave.

The Newcastle University work centres on stem cells - 'blank' cells with the ability to turn into other cell types.

Biologist Karim Nayernia created a cocktail of chemicals and vitamins that turned human stem cells into sperm, the journal Stem Cells and Development reports today.

Viewed through a microscope, they have heads and tails and swim like normal sperm, and Professor Nayernia is 'convinced' they would be capable of fertilising eggs and creating babies.

He has more safety checks to carry out but plans to apply for permission to use some of the artificial sperm to fertilise eggs for research purposes.

The stem cells used were taken from embryos in the first days of life but the professor hopes to repeat his success with skin cells taken from a man's arm. These would first be exposed to a mixture that wound back their biological clocks to embryonic stem cell state, before being transformed into sperm.
Using IVF techniques, the artificial sperm could be injected into eggs, allowing men who do not produce sperm to father children of their own.

However, British law forbids the use of lab-grown sperm or eggs in fertility treatment - a situation the researchers believe needs to change.

Lab-grown sperm could also shed light on the causes of infertility, leading to new treatments for the heartbreaking but little-understood condition that affects one in six couples.

Identification of a flaw in the sperm-making process could lead to the creation of a 'miracle pill' to boost fertility.

Professor Nayernia said: 'This is an important development as it will allow researchers to study in detail how sperm forms and lead to a better understanding of infertility in men - why it happens and what is causing it. 
An idle prediction on my part; women will be allowed to die for lack of health testing like mammograms, including those women who may very well die because they need an abortion to save their lives, while our government continues to receive support for supplying Viagra and similar pharmaceuticals to men, and this technology will receive support from the right, including funding, despite the issue of IVF and stem cell research. 

From a purely practical standpoint, this scientific breakthrough offers tremendous possiblities for animal husbandry applications, including populations of endangered species, especially expanding the possibilities for genetic diversity above and beyond the options available from cryogenic preservation of semen.

Sing along now - you know you want to; make science fun!


  1. "If men became pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament".

    the major problem is that the world is tremendously overpopulated as it is. In the US, they are ripping up farmland to make housing estates. Fortunately, I understand that Detroit may be showing a change in direction. Nature seems to be reclaiming the dead city in what may be an episode of a programme similar to Time Team in 2525.

  2. And while we are on this topic, it seems that the pro-choice forces are desperate for money. A friend writes that he is seeing calls on the caller ID roughly every 30 minutes from NARAL. He's my age and getting a bit annoyed. He wants to pick up the phone and say something along the lines of "tell them to use rusty coathangers".

    His wife is of the same opinion on this that women of child bearing age should be more concerned about what is happening than they are.

    I don't quite get how abortion (reproductive choice) and gun control have become the issues they are in the US.

  3. One of the very first things I wrote for Penigma......

    What would happen, for instance, if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not?

    The answer is clear - menstruation would become an enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event:
    Men would brag about how long and how much.

    Boys would mark the onset of menses, that longed-for proof of manhood, with religious ritual and stag parties."

    The second quote from Ms. Steinem's essay:"Military men, right-wing politicians, and religious fundamentalists would cite menstruation ("men-struation") as proof that only men could serve in the Army ("you have to give blood to take blood"), occupy political office ("can women be aggressive without that steadfast cycle governed by the planet Mars?"), be priest and ministers ("how could a woman give her blood for our sins?") or rabbis ("without the monthly loss of impurities, women remain unclean")."

  4. As I said, I don't quite get why the wedge issues have become wedge issues other than the emotional factor they have.

    One problem I have with having pro-life and pro-gun linked is that they seem like a contradiction. Does property have more value than life? Does justice need to be sidelined with street justice?

    Anyway, a truly "pro-life" agenda would be far different than the one proposed by the religious right: