Thanks to genome analysis tools, for the first time ever, experts were able to shed light on the sperm stem cell development process in humans. They believe their observations will not only assist in efforts to combat infertility, but also help understand the processes behind the development of certain cancers.
In a first such study on humans, a team of researchers from University of Utah Health and Huntsman Cancer Institute examined the stages of human sperm stem cell development and the genes involved. According to the scientists, the process is much more complicated than previously thought. The info obtained, study leader, U of U’s Chair of Oncological Sciences Prof Bradley Cairns, explained, will allow a better understanding of the mechanisms responsible for development of infertility and certain men’s cancers.
The findings showed stem cells go through 4 distinct stages before finally maturing into sperm in a process called “differentiation”. Experts are hopeful the data they gathered will assist in treating not only infertility but also certain malignancies, such as prostate or testicular cancer, which infertile men are at a higher risk for.
Male Factor Infertility and Cancer
Multiple sources point to a link between male infertility and malignancies. For example, a large scale study that followed over 20 thousand men between 1967 and 1998 found that the incidence of aggressive prostate cancer (Gleason score over 8) was 2.6 times higher in the infertile group. These results were replicated in studies from this decade, which also discovered a connection between reproductive failure and testicular germ cell cancer.
Sperm Stem Cells – What’s Next?
Scientists now plan on determining the exact nature of changes that occur when the proper development of stem cells fails, causing them to turn into cancer cells instead. This will help experts identify the genetic mechanisms responsible for genitourinary cancers in men, and, hopefully, pave the way to better treatment and prevention techniques.