Inside a lab at the University of British Columbia, printers are not for paper. Instead, they are being used in the hope of producing something unexpected – sperm.
“We really wanted to replicate what we see in the natural human body,” Dr. Ryan Flanagan, an assistant professor at UBC Urology, told Global News.
In a world-first pair, a team of researchers, led by Flanagan, used a 3D printer to create functional testicular cells and detect early signs of sperm-producing ability.
In Canada, one in six couples experience infertility. 30 percent of the time, the inability to conceive is related to the male partner and in some cases it is not treatable.
The most severe form of male infertility is called obstructive azoospermia or NOA.
“It’s a production problem in the testicles, where no sperm comes out during ejaculation,” explained Dr. Jesse Ori, an assistant professor of urology at Dalhousie University. “Men often don’t know because their ejaculation rate is often normal. But when you examine the semen, you do not see any sperm in the ejaculatory fluid. ”
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Toronto urologist Dr. Kirk Low said NOA may be “congenital” or genetic, but more common causes are chromosomal problems, injury and toxic exposure (such as chemotherapy or radiation). Sometimes, the causes of testicular failure are unknown.
There are treatments but Low says they can be aggressive and ineffective.
“We can try something called microscopic testicular sperm extraction,” Lowe explains. “We open the testicles under a microscope and look for places where we can find potential sperm. For these patients, it’s really a last resort. . “
It couldn’t help the patients Flanagan, he said, who was the inspiration for the project.
“It’s really frustrating for me and for couples and patients when we have no choice.”
For the study, Flannigan and his team collected stem cells from a testicular biopsy of a patient living with NOA.
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The cells were then cultured.
When they show positive efficacy, they are 3D printed on a Petri dish in a hollow cylindrical structure resembling a sperm-producing seminiferous tubule.
Twelve days later, the cells not only survived, they were enriched.
“We’ve reached the middle stage of sperm production,” Flanagan explained.
Dr Amin Herati, a urologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, told Global News that the study was a “game-changer” for men living with NOA.
“When you take away that hope from patients where they can’t have children and tell them there’s no alternative, then you come up with an alternative, like what Dr. Flanagan is proposing, which could make a huge difference in the world.” Fertility, ”said Herati.
Flanagan said there are still several years of research and testing left before his work can be brought into clinical practice.
“This is really the starting point of our research,” he said.
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Now, the goal is to give the printed cells a “trainer” to produce sperm. The group will do this by exposing the cells to different nutrients and growth factors, as well as perfecting the structural arrangement.
If successful, the sperm can be used to fertilize the egg via in vitro or IVF, which allows more males to become biological fathers.
“Being able to have a family is something that is very important,” Ori said. “The more technology we get that allows us to do this, you know, that’s what I’m here for.”
Dr. Flanagan’s research activities may also help uncover the causes of some men’s suffering from NOA.
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“The whole idea is that you could use these types of test models to understand the potential underlying pathology that could help you target the treatment,” said Dr. John Smith, a professor of urology at the University of Toronto. Keith Jarvey 6
“If you understand why these people have a production problem, you can potentially avoid it in the future.”
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