Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center and colleagues have developed a germ cell line derived from spermatogonia, the stem cells that produce sperm. This cell line can proliferate for extended periods in a laboratory setting and will be used for the future study of many medical problems related to sperm. The Georgetown findings have been published on SciencExpress, a web site of the journal Science that provides rapid electronic publication of novel and important findings.
This cell line will provide a basic tool for scientists at Georgetown and elsewhere who are working on male infertility problems, testicular cancer, and possibly for germ cell gene therapy. Germ cell gene therapy is a form of gene therapy that involves altering the genetic makeup of eggs or sperm, permanently changing the genome of an individual's offspring--as opposed to standard gene therapy, which supplies cells with healthy copies of missing or altered genes and affects only the person receiving the therapy. This particular cell line was derived from mice, and from stem cells that can only become sperm cells; it is not derived from human embryos.
Unlike previously developed spermatogonial cell lines, this cell line exhibits characteristic features of normal adult spermatogonial stem cells and, upon appropriate stimulation, differentiates into advanced germ cell types. Further studies with this cell line may lead to in vitro sperm production (a test tube testis), allowing scientists to study the process of male gamete formation more closely.
"The potential implications of this cell line for germ cell gene therapy are far-reaching, although this technology will require many more years of study before it is ready for humans," said Martin Dym, PhD, chair of cell biology and senior author on this work. "Scientists may one day be able to remove defective genes in the sperm stem cells that cause diseases such as cystic fibrosis or hemophilia, transplant these corrected stem cells back into the testis, and all future offspring of that individual would be free from that particular disease."
This research was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, NIH, and conducted with colleagues at the University of Virginia; the University of California, San Francisco; and Northwestern University.
Georgetown University Medical Center includes the School of Medicine, School of Nursing and Health Studies, the Lombardi Cancer Center and a $120 million biomedical research enterprise.