To date, it has been possible to obtain stem cells from skin cells through reprogramming mechanisms, which resulted in a Nobel Prize for scientists John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka. They have called them induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS).
IPS are able to generate almost any cell tissue just like embryonic stem cells do. However, obtaining gametes (already differentiated cells) from these induced pluripotent cells requires one more step. That is to say, IPS must be obtained from skin cells and, then, they have to be differentiated from gametic cells.
Now, a research group from the IVI Foundation-University of Valencia, led by Dr. Carlos Simón, and the Department of Stem Cells at Stanford University, are seeking to obtain gametes (eggs and sperm) directly from skin cells.
This technique hopes to be the solution for many couples who struggle to produce viable sperm and eggs. The only current solution for these couples is the donation of gametes. Thanks to this new discovery, those couples could gestate their own biological child.
According to Carlos Símon, co-director of the IVI Foundation and director of the research group, this could be the solution for one-third of all infertile couples in Spain. 15% of all couples of reproductive age are infertile.
From research to the clinic
This research has been recently awarded the KY CHA Award in Stem Cell Technology. This award is given by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and includes a cash prize of $20,000 for the advancement of research.
To reach their goals, investigators used a novel technique known as “direct reprogramming”. They hope to obtain gametes from fibroblasts, which are skin cells.
Results obtained until now are experimental, and much has to be done until the technique can be implemented in clinics. According to Dr. Carlos Simón, “the development of human germline has to advance so that other solutions, besides the donation of gametes, can be found for couples whose infertility cause is the non-production of gametes.”
We may think the ethical constraints of this research are dismissed by the non-creation of stem cells but by the production of differentiated cells obtained from a type derived from differentiated cells of another completely different type. However, this is not the case.
If applied, this new discovery would create a gamete, which would lead to the creation of a new being from a cell of a person. Although it is not the same as cloning, since it lacks the genetic information of another gamete, some scientists view it as such, so the issue and the debate remain open.
Either way, and to date, investigation continues and its results can be very important for the world of assisted reproduction.