Is This the End of Infertility?

Artificially created sperm and eggs could spell the end of infertility within ten years, scientists have claimed.

Their prediction comes as the world’s first test tube baby, Louise Brown, celebrates her 25th birthday today.

Scientists believe the astonishing breakthrough will be achieved by combining the latest stem cell technology with fertility treatment.

Already, experiments on mice have indicated it is possible to turn stem cells – the body’s unprogrammed ‘master’ cells – into sperm or eggs.

“I believe in future everybody who is infertile can be helped,” Professor Alan Trounson, from the Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development in Victoria, Australia, told a briefing in London yesterday.

“I say that because I think what the future holds for us is the intersection of the stem cell area with the reproductive area. It hasn’t happened yet, but it will. In future we’ll be able to take cells and reconstruct the equivalent of sperm and eggs.”

He added: “I think we’re talking about 10 years plus, because there’s a lot of work to do to show the efficiency and safety of these procedures, and we’ve got to do the basic work.”

Stem cells taken from early-stage embryos can potentially be developed into any tissue in the human body.

Scientists at the cutting edge of fertility research think it is only a matter of time before the technique is used to build sperm and egg cells.

A team of U.S. scientists has already caused mouse embryonic stem cells to begin to transform into eggs. Another from Japan has used stem cells to make immature sperm.

The research could theoretically make infertility a thing of the past, assuming everyone had access to the stem cell treatment.

It has been 25 years since Louise Brown’s historic conception at a clinic in Cambridge. She is now a postwoman living in Bristol. Since her birth, more than a million IVF babies have been born around the world.

Professor Trounson said in-vitro fertilisation techniques had now progressed to the point where they could be used to help threequarters of infertile couples.

But some remain impossible to treat, particularly those men and women who are unable to produce sperm or eggs.

A leading expert in the field, Cambridge University’s Professor Roger Pederson, said the latest stem cell research would not be possible without IVF. Embryos used in the studies were left over from IVF treatment and donated by consenting couples. “This is all a legacy of the 25 years of IVF,” he said.

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