Montana State University

Reijo Pera and team: Stem cell research holds promise for male infertility

May 1, 2014 -- MSU News Service

Renee Reijo Pera, MSU vice president for research and economic development, and a team of researchers have used skin cells from infertile men to create the precursors to sperm cells. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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A Montana State University researcher and her co-researchers are receiving international attention for showing that skin cells from infertile men can be used to create the precursors of sperm – research that holds promise for treating male infertility.

The teams’ work published on May 1 in Cell Reports has been reported on by England’s GuardianTelegraph, and Independent newspapers as well as National Public Radio and many U.S. science news outlets.

The team took skin cells from men who suffer from a genetic disorder, known as azoospermia, which prevents them from producing sperm. Those skin cells were then turned into stem cells, specifically, induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSC. Like other stem cells, iPSC have the ability to become any other type of cell.

The team then implanted the stem cells into the testes of mice where they produced the precursors to sperm. It was the first time such work has ever been done.

The research was carried out at Stanford University, but the paper was written at Montana State University by senior author Renee Reijo Pera, MSU’s new vice president for research. Reijo Pera came to MSU in January from Stanford where she had been director of Stanford University’s Center for Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Research and Education and the Center for Reproductive and Stem Cell Biology. She is regarded as one of the world authorities on embryonic stem cells.

The success of the stem cells in forming the precursors to sperm in the mice offer scientists a new way to study the causes of, and possible treatments for, male infertility. The findings hold promise that one day infertile men could have their own cells implanted in their testes as a treatment for infertility. Reijo Pera and the paper’s other authors caution that such a treatment would require much further research before being clinically viable.

“Infertility is remarkably common, affecting 10 to 15 percent of couples,” Reijo Pera said. “And the genetic causes of infertility are surprisingly prevalent among men. So progress in this area could potentially help thousands, if not millions, of couples around the world.”

Another implication of the paper is the possibility of using cells from endangered species to help boost their reproduction.

Contributing to the paper with Reijo Pera were Cyril Ramathal, lead author, Jens Durruthy-Durruthy and Joy Arakaki with the Institute for Stem Cell Biology & Regenerative Medicine, Departments of Genetics and Obstetrics and Gynecology at Stanford University; Meena Sukhwani and Kyle Orwing of the Magee Women’s Research Institute at the University of Pittsburgh; and Paul Turek, of the Turek Clinic in San Francisco.

To read more coverage on the work, visit:

Cell Reports: Fate of iPSCs Derived from Azoospermic and Fertile Men following Xenotransplantation to Murine Seminiferous Tubules 

Eurekalert: Stem cells from some infertile men form germ cells when transplanted into mice, study finds

The Guardian: Study turns skin tissue from infertile men into early-state sperm cells

The Telegraph: Human skin used to create sperm

The Independent:New infertility treatment could grow sperm from skin cells

National Public Radio: Out Of Skin Cells, Sperm: A ‘Provocative’ Fertility Treatment

U.S. News and World Report: Skin Cells of Infertile Men Turned Into Sperm 'Precursors' in Mouse Study

Science Codex: Sperm precursors made from stem cells of infertile men

Health Day: Skin Cells of Infertile Men Turned Into Sperm ‘Precursors’ in Mouse Study

Live Science: Men’s Skin Cells Turned Into Sperm Precursors

Daily Mail: Hope for infertile men as scientists create sperm cells from skin

New Zealand Herald: Sperm cells made from skin offers hope to infertile men

Herald Scotland: Family boost for infertile men 

Xinhau: Scientists turn skin cells of infertile men into sperm precursors

Fox News: Men's skin cells turned into sperm precursors

Bioscience Technology: Infertile Men's Stem Cells Form Germ Cells in Mice

Red Orbit: Stem Cells of Infertile Men Used to Create Preliminary Sperm Cells

Medical Daily: Stem Cell-Based Sperm Successfully Created from Skin of Infertile Men

India Today: Scientists create sperm cells from skin of men

Times of India: Fresh hope for infertile men

South China Morning Post: Sperm cells made from skin tissue offer hope for infertile men