A team of British researchers claimed this morning to have developed a method to create sperm from embryonic stem cells.
Researchers at Newcastle University and the NorthEast England Stem Cell Institute say they used a new technique to derive what they described as sperm cells from embryonic stem cells. Stem cells have the potential to become any cell in the body.
Newcastle research leader Karim Nayernia said in a statement Wednesday that the technique would allow researchers to study how sperm develops and possibly help develop treatments for infertile men.
The research was published Wednesday in the journal Stem Cells and Development.
The Independent newspaper immediately wondered if this meant "a world without men." Ethicist John Harris, professor of bioethics at The University of Manchester and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medical Ethics, said no man would need to be considered infertile again.
Now, if this research is confirmed, all they will need is a very large supply of male stem cells. Might we see the George Clooney stem cell line (assuming he were to consent to it)? I can see no objection. It is no more wrong to choose the genes of your child than your reproductive partner. Indeed, we have always sought to do both, choosing our partners on the basis of our -- sometimes erroneous -- belief about the sort of children likely to result. I see nothing wrong with people exercising that choice using the technology as it becomes available.
If it is not wrong to wish for a bouncing brown-eyed baby girl, why would it become wrong once we had the technology to play Fairy Godmother to ourselves and grant our own wish?
Not all ethicists see it so simply.
"This area has potential powerful clinical applications mixed with people's concerns over embryo research," says Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University who specializes in stem-cell-related ethical issues. "All the ingredients are there for a really, really lively ethical debate."
Others simply doubt the research.
"I am unconvinced from the data presented in this paper that the cells produced by Professor Nayernia's group from embryonic stem cells can be accurately called 'spermatazoa," said Allan Pacey, a senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield.
Pacey said in a statement that the sperm created by Nayernia did not have the specific shape, movement and function of real sperm.
Azim Surani, a professor of physiology and reproduction at the University of Cambridge said the sperm produced by the Newcastle team were "a long way from being authentic sperm cells."