Scientists in China have successfully produced healthy monkeys by using sperm derived from young monkey testicles that were transplanted onto mice. The team claims that boys who die before puberty will someday be enabled to produce offspring.
This innovation might be very useful in China, where its one-child policy has made it challenging for some families to continue their lineage.
Professor Sun Qiang from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Shanghai Institutes for Biological Science led the experiment.
The scientists took the testicular tissue from macaque monkeys and connected it to the backs of mice. One of the monkeys was only 14 months old. They believe that their experiment is the first instance of the reproduction of primates utilizing this method.
The process of transplanting the organs from one species to another is called a “xenograft”. While monkeys and mice were used in this case, it is theorized that the same procedure could be used on humans.
Sperm can be stored for long periods of time using freezing methods without a loss in viability. However, the sperm must be originally created by a sexually mature male.
The team of scientists wanted to know whether or not the sexual tissue would continue to grow upon being attached to a foreign host and also if it would create healthy sperm. To test this, they attached tiny ball-shaped pieces of testicular tissue from the monkeys onto the backs of the mice.
According to the scientists, most of the xenografts grew well. In fact, after only ten months, the testicles were large enough to create mature sperm. This was particularly fast, as it typically takes male macaque monkeys four years to reach sexual maturity.
The sperm from these testes was then injected into eight female monkeys. Six of them produced healthy infants.
Meanwhile, the testicles kept growing after the transplant took place. They continued making viable sperm for an additional 17 months. An analysis of the genes showed that the offspring inherited many traits of their fathers.
It remains unknown if the offspring produced through this method would be able to reproduce on their own.
For now though, the scientists plan on continuing their research in order to expand their findings.