Researchers at Ben-Gurion University have developed normal sperm from mouse cells. The cells were extracted from the testicles of mice. While the development of sperm from cells is in infancy stages, researchers believe this breakthrough could be significant for cancer patients requiring chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

When a man is diagnosed with cancer, treatment may include chemotherapy and radiation. Typically, these treatments kill the cells responsible for sperm production. Patients will continue to produce semen, but there are no active sperm in the semen and thus the patients are infertile. There have been cases where natural conception has occurred after chemotherapy and radiation. Recently, Lance Armstrong conceived a child naturally after undergoing aggressive treatment for testicular cancer, but this does not occur in most patients.

In addition to helping men conceive after cancer treatment, producing sperm from testicular cells could prove a beneficial treatment for other conditions affecting sperm health. According to authors, research published in Nature’s Asian Journal of Andrology is the first of its kind.

Currently, the only viable option for male cancer patients is to cryo-preserve sperm for later use. Cryo-preservation entails extracting healthy sperm and freezing them until the patient wishes to use the sperm for conception. When ready for use, the sperm must be thawed and all unhealthy sperm removed before being implanted via assisted reproductive technology. It can take multiple tries to fertilize an egg. Cryo-preservation and assisted reproductive technology are extremely expensive.

Researchers note that this study is just the first in a long series of studies to come in the future. Scientists will need to reproduce the results and attempt to grow human sperm from human testicular cells. It could take more than two decades before this technology is available for human use.

Source: Prof. Eitan Lunenfeld and Prof. Stefan Schlatt. Nature’s Asian Journal of Andrology. 17 November, 2011.