Testicles Could Yield Stem Cells Without the Ethical Complications

By Eliza Strickland | October 9, 2008 10:00 am

stem cells3Researchers have found a way to turn cells from human testes into adult stem cells, raising the possibility that men could eventually have spare cells from their own testicles converted into other kinds of tissue for medical treatments and bodily “repairs.” Lead researcher Thomas Skutella harvested spermatogonial cells, which normally mature into sperm, from men and used a series of chemicals to turn them into various cell types…. “We made them into skin, structures of the gut, cartilage, bone, muscle and neurons,” says Skutella [New Scientist].

The achievement is of particular interest because it avoids the ethical quandaries involved in using embryonic stem cells, which require destroying a human embryo. Using testicular cells isn’t the only promising method that avoids embryos; there have been impressive experiments in reprogramming ordinary body cells into stem cells by slipping certain genes into them. The new findings and the reprogrammed cells — which still have technical hurdles — “take some pressure off the stem cell issue,” said White House science adviser Jack Marburger [AP].

In the study, published in Nature [subscription required], researchers took biopsy samples from 22 men ranging in age from 17 to 81, then isolated the sperm-precursor cells and manipulated them chemically to form cells that closely resembled embryonic stem cells. While many are cheering this accomplishment, other scientists caution that it will take years of research to determine whether the manipulated cells can safely be used in medical treatments. Says stem cell expert Robin Lovell-Badge: “The same cells are also the likely origin of testicular tumours, so will the reprogrammed cells be entirely normal?” He added: “An answer to how these testis-derived pluripotent cells can be used will have to be left dangling a little longer” [BBC News].

Another open question is whether and how women might be able to benefit from the discovery. Skutella argues that at the very least, male germ stem cells could be used to treat women in much the same way that bone marrow is used in cancer therapy: by finding a closely related male donor and treating the patient with immunosuppressants, to prevent the body from rejecting the cells. But others are hopeful that similarly versatile stem cells can be obtained from the female reproductive tract [Technology Review].

Related Content:

80beats: Researchers Create Stem Cells Without Cancerous Side Effects
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80beats: Turning Stem Cells Into Nerve Cells to Study Lou Gehrig’s Disease
Reality Base: GOP Moves to Stamp Out Embryonic Research, McCain (Hopefully) Disagrees
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Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Richard Fellows

    I remember watching my father die of starvation from Parkinson’s disease while “Christian” zealots did all they could to outlaw the research that might lead to a cure.
    Maybe with this advance we can sideline the “Christian” zealots and their Taliban brothers who are so content to have our families die for their demented religions.

  • Bystander

    I console myself by constantly reminding myself just how relatively young our species is when I hear/read all the ignorance spewed by religious fanatics concerning the inhibiting of development of life saving technologies. Give us what we want now and maybe, just maybe, my grandkids could look back and boggle at the poisons we ingest for ailments today and the surgeries we endure when I know that it’s possible to completely bypass ‘big pharmaceutical’ and treat each individual with cultures of tissues created from our own bodies.

    It is a shame to exist in this age of achievement only to witness it’s sorely misled nay-sayers win out with their illogical and unfounded propaganda. Myself, I can’t grasp how so many people believe what they believe just because they were told so despite the extensive scientific facts screaming in their faces.


  • Sherece Manchester

    This is wonderful news. It makes sense that pliable cells could be harvested without having to use those from embryos. I am glad that they did not stop there…this technology is much needed. I also agree that there are better ways of treating illness than pharmaceuticals…we just have to find these ways. If this technology hurts no one and does not infringe on anyone’s rights, who could argue about this?
    Of course this news brings the ugly comments about the “religious fanatics”. I consider myself as well as my family fortunate as we have always been relatively healthy. I cannot imagine the pain of watching a loved one suffer. I do believe in God but most people who know me wouldn’t really consider me religious. I would have to argue that taking life from someone else no matter how “insignificant” they may seem to save someone else is wrong. You do not have to be a “Christian” zealot to see this. You do not have to be religious at all. Do atheists believe that murder is acceptable? I am not saying it is wrong because you’ll be judged later. I just always knew we were not supposed to kill one another. It almost feels like it was hard-wired in. Even if I had only one week to live, I would not think it was okay for someone to take out my heart and give it to someone else who needed it, thus ending my life sooner than it had to end. What I have come to understand from the study of biology makes it obvious to me that life begins at conception. This doesn’t seem convenient for us in our time of fast food… and me, me, me.
    We disregard facts and rationalize our actions to make ourselves feel better. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t done this. None of this is new. History (and present) gives innumerable examples of people who would lie, steal, and kill to protect their own. As human beings we are very capable of justifying the things we do, “need”, and have a “right to”, no matter what the means. There are those who should be thanking the Christians and other “religious fanatics” and hey, I guess you can count me in as one of the “crazies”. We are the perfect scapegoat…paint us up as dirty, insensitive fools with no understanding or respect for human life. Then go look in the mirror…we see you in the same light.


    i have my left testicle slipping downwards since 2 years when I was learning karate in my school how could i deal with this problem since I have my marriage in next month . So kindly give my nice suggestion about the medicines to be used and make my testicles strong enough for my lifetime and make them stable in their correct positon.


    Can they also make egg cells from stem cells?


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