Around 7.5 percent of men in the U.S. visit a fertility doctor at some point in their life, according to the CDC. Around 18 percent of those men go on to be diagnosed with infertility. As the Guardian reports, across the world, around one percent of men cannot produce any sperm at all. Researchers are hoping to give those men a chance at fathering their own children, however, with a new method that manufactures sperm cells from skin cells.
Although scientists haven’t proved the method is totally viable, the results of a recent study look promising. As the Guardian describes, researchers recruited three infertile men and collected skin cell samples from them. They manipulated those skin cells to become stem cells—generic cells that can grow into any other type of specialized cell in the body. Then, they inserted those human stem cells into the testes of live mice. There, the stem cells formed into immature sperm cells.
The researchers told the Guardian that they think the cells, if inserted into the men’s testes, would have formed into mature, healthy sperm, although further testing is the only way to find out for sure.
As NPR points out, if viable, the method could lead to some potentially tricky situations. For example, a person’s sperm could be manufactured without his permission or knowledge, and then sold on the blackmarket. It could also mean that, so long as some living cellular material is preserved, someone who has died can still father a child. As one bioethicist told NPR, “I think we’re going to have to craft a new human right: the right to consent to being a parent."