In a world first, Israel scientists grow testicles in lab

The Philippine Star

TEL AVIV – Researchers at an Israeli university have grown artificial testicles, in a development they say could help treat infertility in men, according to various international reports.

The organoids were produced from cells extracted from mouse testes, The Straits Times said, citing a report from the New York Post.

“Organoids are three-dimensional miniature versions of immature organs. Biologists have already created versions that resemble the brain, kidneys and intestines from stem cells,” according to the reports.

The artificial testicles cannot produce sperm yet, the Daily Mail reported.

But the scientists, led by Dr. Nitzan Gonen from Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, say they share many of the structural and genetic characteristics as the natural ones.

The team realized the procedure was a success when they identified tubule-like structures and cellular organization that resembled those of in vivo, or “within the living,” testes.

The laboratory-grown mouse testicles functioned well for nine weeks. In theory, this is enough time for sperm production and hormone secretion, The Jerusalem Post reported. The process typically takes about 34 and a half days.

In the study done by Dr. Gonen’s team, the scientists noted that the organoids showed signs of “entry into meiosis.” This is the process that reduces the number of chromosomes by half to form sperm cells. These then “wait” for the completion of the other half from another reproductive cell, in this case an egg, upon fertilization.

“Dr. Gonen’s team is now working to figure out whether their organoids can actually produce sperm cells, and whether they can produce sex hormones like testosterone,” The Straits Times said.

The researchers are aiming to eventually develop human-like testicles from human stem cells.

They hope to be able to treat infertility in men.

“Fertility clinics are able to identify some of the problems that cause male infertility – a low sperm count or an abnormal structure – but we don’t understand fully what causes this, which genome mutations led to the condition or what went wrong in the testicle’s functioning, as a result of which the tubes do not carry the sperm well,” Dr. Gonen told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz last week.

Testicles have two main functions – the production, storage and maturation of sperm cells and the synthesis of testosterone, the primary male sex hormone.

The scientists believe the artificial testicles could help in the study of the effects of different toxins on testicular function.

“Research has suggested that environmental pollutants from things like food to children’s toys have an impact on male fertility,” according to the Daily Mail report.

Further down the line, the researchers want to determine whether they can grow similar artificial testicles from biopsies taken from pre-pubescent boys who are about to undergo chemotherapy for childhood cancer.

The aim is to allow these cancer survivors to be able to have children of their own if the chemotherapy leaves them infertile, Dr. Gonen told the Daily Mail.

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