Press Releases

PRESS RELEASE: Experts warn more testing needed before stem cells can be used to make sperm and eggs

19 November 2015

While significant progress has been made in the creation of human sperm and eggs from stem cells, we are still some years away from the treatment being approved as safe and reliable, according to speakers at ‘Hype, hope or reality - can we make eggs or sperm from stem cells?’ a public lecture held this evening.

The event, jointly hosted by the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA) and Stem Cells Australia, examined how far we are from creating human gametes (sperm and eggs) in order to help infertile men and women, post-menopausal women, and gay couples conceive genetically related children.

Three eminent reproductive specialists and researchers, Associate Professor John McBain from Melbourne IVF and Royal Women's Hospital, and Dr Robin Hobbs and Dr Deepak Adhikari, both from Monash University, joined VARTA’s CEO, Louise Johnson, in a discussion that explored the scientific, legal and ethical considerations involved. Associate Professor Megan Munsie from the University of Melbourne and Stem Cells Australia chaired the event.

“Although there have been major advances over the past ten years in this area, our ability to mimic the complex steps needed to create functioning gametes continues to be elusive,” said Dr Munsie. “While births have been reported in animal studies, questions remain over whether the same approach will work for humans.”

The speakers agreed that the question of safety remained the primary concern in the scientific development of this therapy.

“At the heart of the matter is the fact that we are talking about using this technology for the creation of a child. This process is extremely complex and not getting it right would have long term consequences for the health of a child born,” Dr Munsie said.

The speakers suggested that any stem cell-based infertility treatments would need to be extensively evaluated before being applied in humans. For example, assessing the genetic integrity of sperm or eggs derived from stem cells would be essential to avoid hereditary risks.

“At the moment, there is no proven safe and effective way to make sperm and eggs from the patient’s own cells. More research is required to better understand the complex processes involved in generating gametes that are capable of driving normal development to term and whether we can adequately replicate these in the laboratory,” she said.

The speakers also acknowledged that this issue is likely to excite considerable controversy and raise ethical issues around how far to the research should be taken.

“While many infertile couples may be extremely willing to provide cells and tissue to assist researchers better understand how to create sperm and eggs from their genetic material, there are likely to be others within the community who view these technological advances as unethical. Particularly as 'testing' may require the need to create a human embryo for research which is currently prohibited by Australian regulations,” Dr Munsie said.

“Although we are a still a long way from being able to ‘take men out of the equation’ as some of the sensational headlines about the potential of stem cell science have implied, it is still important to contemplate and discuss where the future may lead us,” Dr Munsie said.

ENDS

 

Event details:

‘Hype, hope or reality- can we make eggs or sperm from stem cells?’

Thursday, 19 November 2015 from 5:45 PM to 7:30 PM

Russell Kennedy, Level 12, 469 La Trobe Street, Melbourne

Presenters:

  • A/Prof John McBain, Melbourne IVF and Royal Women's Hospital
  • Dr Robin Hobbs, Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute and Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, Monash University 
  • Dr Deepak Adhikari, Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, Monash University
  • Louise Johnson, CEO Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority

Chair:

  • A/Prof. Megan Munsie, Head - Education, Ethics, Law & Community Awareness Unit, Stem Cells Australia, The University of Melbourne

If you would like to attend the event, please call Marjorie Solomon on 0452 515 302.

Media contacts

Marjorie Solomon, PR Officer, VARTA

Phone: 03 8601 5250

Mobile: 0452 515 302

Email: msolomon@varta.org.au

Louise Johnson, CEO, VARTA

Phone: 03 8601 5250

Mobile: 0419 557 639

Email: ljohnson@varta.org.au