Researchers from the Hopkins University say that they may one day be able to reverse some cases of male infertility. The announcement is based on findings from an animal study that show infertile male mice treated with gene therapy are able to go on to produce offspring.
According to researchers, up to 30 percent of couples worldwide are infertile. Between 20 percent and 40 percent of these are due to male infertility and the majority of those are a result of problems with sperm production.
Sperm production relies on a network of interactions between growth factors and hormones and is dependent on contact between various cells including ones called somatic Sertoli cells. When Sertoli cells are dysfunctional, sperm production is interrupted. Currently, there is no way to repair dysfunctional Sertoli cells.
Researchers from the Hopkins University, led by Inder Verma, used gene therapy to correct Sertoli cell dysfunction in mice. Their goal was to see if this could lead to sperm production and whether or not the sperm could be used to produce offspring. Researchers were also looking at whether or not the alteration would be passed on.
Researchers corrected the sperm and used them in a process called assisted fertilization. They found the sperm were then able to go on to generate healthy pups. Researchers say these results suggest male infertility may be treated with gene therapy and that the gene alteration was not passed on to the descendants.