3D printing used to create testicular tubules
David Cansfield, Progress Educational Trust
27 April 2022
Testicular tubules have been created using a 3D printing technique for the first time ever, which may provide hope for men with infertility.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia, Canada studied the feasibility of growing testicular tissue in the laboratory and its potential to create sperm cells. By 3D printing biopsied testicular cells, they were able to form a structure similar to seminiferous tubules (where sperm is made), which is a significant first step towards being able to artificially create conditions where sperm can be made.
'3D printing these cells into a very specific structure that mimics human anatomy... is our best shot at stimulating sperm production,' explained Dr Ryan Flannigan, a urologist who led the study published in Fertility and Sterility Science.
Infertility in men accounts for at least a third of the problems heterosexual couples face when trying to conceive. Largely, this is due to faulty sperm while approximately ten percent of infertile men suffer from azoospermia, a condition in which sperm is absent in the semen. For men that are not making sperm at all, current options are limited to treating this with surgery into the testes to search directly for sperm cells there.
To set about circumventing this problem, the team took stem cells from the testicles of a 31-year-old man with azoospermia and grew as many new stem cells as they could in the lab. The 3D printing technique was then used to form the seminiferous tubules which were kept nourished. After 12 days of in vitro culture the team demonstrated an increase in cell markers proving viability to achieve the next step in this field of research, to artificially produce sperm cells.
'It's a huge milestone, seeing these cells survive and begin to differentiate. There's a long road ahead, but this makes our team very hopeful,' said Dr Flannigan.
These findings not only have benefits for male infertility that could one day be used for in vitro fertilisation but could also be used to assist older men who are less likely to have successful fertility treatment. In addition, the breakthrough may complement prior research with the aim to preserve fertility in boys and young men undergoing cancer treatment.
'The field of regenerative medicine and using approaches like this is probably going to have a bigger presence in the future,' Dr Flannigan noted. 'It's all fairly early on in development and there's a lot of people doing parallel research in other organ and disease systems [but] it's an exciting field to watch out for.'
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© Copyright 2008 Progress Educational Trust
Reproduced from BioNews with permission, a web- and email-based source of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and human genetics, published by Progress Educational Trust.
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