Coming soon: Babies made without men

Wednesday July 15 2009

 

By OLIVER MATHENGE and BORNICE BIOMNDO

Women will soon be able to make babies without men... thanks to a breakthrough announced by British scientists who say they have found a way to make artificial sperm.

And they hope to have perfected the sperm by 2015.

The new development comes as good news for men suffering from infertility.

The artificial sperm is now being touted as one of the best ways that can help men save their marriages due to problems that arise from the inability to sire.

Scientists at the Newcastle University in the United Kingdom say that they have created a human sperm using embryonic stem cells, a first in science development, which will lead researchers to a better understanding of the causes of infertility.

The researchers, led by Professor Karim Nayernia, have developed a new technique, which has made the creation of human sperm possible in the laboratory.

“This is an important development as it will allow researchers to study in detail how sperm forms and lead to a better understanding of infertility in men, why it happens and what is causing it.

“This understanding could help us develop new ways to help couples suffering from infertility so that they can have a child which is genetically theirs,” Prof Nayernia said following the publications of the findings last week.

The work was published on July 8 in the academic journal Stem Cells and Development and posted on Newcastle University’s website.

According to Dr Joshua Noreh, who was behind the introduction In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) in Kenya, as long as its safety and outcome is established, the artificial sperm could offer an option to infertile men.

However, he told the Nation that he was not convinced that either could ever be established.

“We may not know how safe it could be, it would take a while by which time it would already be too late,” said Dr Noreh in an interview.

He said initial trials by the scientists had no way of proving that the babies produced by the sperm would be 100 per cent healthy or that they will not develop complications later in life.

Short life span
“Similar experiments with animals have been successful but most of them ended up having a short life span or diseases related to the experiment,” he added.

The fertility expert’s sentiments correspond to those made by a section of British doctors. They have argued that the created cells had distinctive genetic features and molecular markers and it was not clear they were the same as natural sperms.

And there are dangers, they said, quoting a test carried out on mice which left the young mice born with a host of health problems.

A crusader for the use of natural means of conception, Dr Noreh, encouraged couples to stick to technologies that use natural cells and follow nature’s ways of development.

“The scientists too have to be careful about what new forms they bring into the human world as it may cause problems in the future,” he noted.

In the technique developed at Newcastle, stem cells with male chromosomes were developed into stem cells.

These were shown to produce fully mature sperm called In Vitro Derived sperm (IVD sperm).

The UK team said IVD sperm will not be used for fertility treatment.

“While we can understand that some people may have concerns, this does not mean that humans can be produced ‘in a dish’ and we have no intention of doing this. This work is a way of investigating why some people are infertile and the reasons behind it. If we have a better understanding of what’s going on, it could lead to new ways of treating infertility,” adds Prof Nayernia.

The research team also believes that studying the process of forming sperm could lead to a better understanding of how genetic diseases are passed on.

The issue that will catch the attention of men is whether after they lose their relevance in procreation the process of natural selection will not make their species extinct.

Some men view this new experiment as a threat to them. Speaking to the Nation, Maendeleo Ya Wanaume chairman Nderitu Njoka said the trial goes against the right of men to have sex and to make children.

Mr Njoka says that if successful, the development would be detrimental to society because it comes at a time when more women are deciding to have families without men. He urged men to rally together against the ‘ungodly experiment’.

But the women welcomed the idea of having a possible solution to infertility. Federation of Women Lawyers director Patricia Nyaundi said any advancement in science that would allow couples to have children should be embraced.

Strains marriage
“It is a fact that the inability to have children strains a marriage,” said Ms Nyaundi.

She rubbished Mr Njoka’s claims that men would be sidelined, saying the advancement would not change women’s regard towards men. “The men are the key beneficiaries because despite impotence they can produce their own children,” she said.