Can adult human testes cells be transformed into embryonic stem-like cells? Yes, believe researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center.
The researchers used a simple method to extract stem/progenitor cells from adult testes and successfully converted them back into pluripotent embryonic-like stem cells.
In their opinion, the naive cells are now potentially capable of morphing into any cell type that a body needs, from brain neurons to pancreatic tissue.
They further claimed that as the stem cells were produced without the use of additional genes, the technology should be safe for human use.
"Given these advances, and with further validation, it is possible that in the not-too-distant-future, men could be cured of disease with a biopsy of their own testes," said the study's senior investigator, Martin Dym, PhD, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular and Cellular Biology.
The research team is one of the first to show that human testes stem cells can become embryonic-like stem cells.
And the scientists have done this work using testis tissue from organ donors, which according to them has provided enough valuable tissue to allow them to make their discoveries.
In the new study, the researchers are disclosing a new and simpler method to isolate the testes stem/progenitor cells than has not been seen in other published procedures in humans and rodents.
Dym said that the using adult stem cells for this type of cell-based therapy offers a number of advantages over other strategies currently being explored.
He also said that the use of embryonic stem cells is controversial because it necessitates destruction of an embryo, and pushing fully mature cells, such as skin cells, back into a stem-like state requires use of cancer genes, and has therefore been viewed as potentially risky for human treatment.
With the new approach, men with an incurable disorder or disease could have a biopsy of their testes, which Dym says is a common procedure in patients suspected of having testicular cancer.
Testes stem/progenitor cells - those cells that can go on to produce sperm - would be removed from the biopsy tissue, and grown in the laboratory with the addition of certain chemicals and growth factors. This causes the cells to revert back into a pluripotent state, which could then be driven into chosen cell types.
"We are taking adult spermatogonial stem/progenitor cells, which in the body are unipotent, capable of only making sperm, and coaxing them back to embryonic stem-like cells, which are pluripotent," said Dym.
Researchers said that the new cell types could be frozen and used at any point in the future.
The research team conducted the study using testes donated to GUMC from four organ donors, aged 16-52 years old.
"This is novel data which strengthens the argument for carrying out further research on pluripotent cells derived from human testes," said Dym.
The next step, he says, is to get differentiated cells to cure disease in animal models.
The study is published online in the journal Stem Cells and Development.