Testicle stem cell hope
Dr Jess Buxton
Progress Educational Trust09 June 2006
UK researchers have been given the go-ahead to investigate the potential of human testicle stem cells to develop into other types of body tissue The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has licenced the team, based at the Hammersmith Hospital in London, to study the cells in order to find out if they are as versatile as stem cells isolated from early embryos. The scientists hope that the work may eventually lead to new therapies for conditions such as heart disease, Parkinson's disease and spinal injury.
Last year, German researchers isolated cells from adult mouse testicles that share some of the characteristics of embryonic stem (ES) cells. The team isolated stem cells that normally grow into sperm, and coaxed them into producing many different types of body cell. The researchers, based at the Georg-August-University of Gottingen, published their findings in the journal Nature. However, at the time, other scientists cautioned that stem cells from human testes might not behave in the same way as their mouse counterparts.
The Gottingen team used genetically altered mice in which the sperm stem cells were permanently 'tagged' with a fluorescent protein, to enable them to isolate the elusive cells from mouse testes. They then grew the cells in the laboratory, and found that some of them resembled ES cells. These cells, which they dubbed multipotent adult germline stem cells (maGSCs), were able to grow into several different types of body cell - including heart, brain, liver and skin. The scientists also found that the maGSCs were able to form different tissues and organs when injected into mouse embryos.
The ongoing controversy surrounding research into human ES cells in Germany, where such work is banned, and many other countries, has lead several groups to seek alternative sources of cells that can potentially develop into a wide range of different tissues. Even in countries where ES cell research is permitted, it hinges on the availability of donated human eggs. Commenting on the planned research at Hammersmith Hospital, stem cell expert Professor Harry Moore, of Sheffield University, said: 'In this country, the ethical issues of obtaining stem cells from cloned embryos are really covered by the HFEA, but there is still the major problem of where do you get eggs that are high enough quality and in sufficient quantity. The advantage of this work is that it avoids both of these issues'.
If testicular stem cells prove to be as versatile as their embryonic counterparts, it may be possible for men to bank testicular tissue early in life, and later use it to repair damaged or diseased areas of the body. Such tissue could also potentially be used to provide cell-based therapies for any men who share the same tissue type. Professor Chris Barratt, of the Birmingham Women's Hospital told the Guardian newspaper: 'There are a lot of testicles around and you don't need a staggering number to have enough variety to match nearly all of the population'.
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.