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Sperm stem cells closer to being like embryonic stem cells

New experiments that prevented rat sperm stem cells from changing permanently into sperm have brought researchers one step closer to coaxing such cells to behave like embryonic stem cells, capable of growing into many other types of cells in the body.

Researchers at the Cecil H. and Ida Green Center for Reproductive Biology Sciences at UT Southwestern Medical Center devised methods to keep male rat germ-line stem cells ?sperm precursor cells ?from differentiating, or changing, into sperm proper. The researchers also froze the sperm stem cells, thawed them, and transplanted them back into rat testes, where they developed into normal sperm.

Dr. David Garbers, professor of pharmacology, director of the Green Center and senior author of a study appearing in an upcoming issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said the new work has many potential applications, including a possible alternative to embryonic stem cells, the development of new male contraceptives and new animal models to test stem cell-based therapies. Germ-line cells are those such as egg and sperm and their precursors whose genetic material can be passed to offspring.

"The ability to manipulate male germ-line stem cells and get them to grow and self-renew is a major step," said Dr. Garbers, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at UT Southwestern.

"We're only one step removed from another major step, the Holy Grail for us certainly, which is pushing these cells back a level to a state that is pluripotent-like, similar to embryonic stem cells. That's what we're focused on now."

Pluripotent cells have the potential to change into many other types of cells in the body, such as liver cells and brain cells. Their potential use in humans to treat diseases like diabetes and Parkinson's is controversial because currently the only source of such cells for research is human embryos or mouse cells. Recently another research team published results
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Source:UT Southwestern Medical Center


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