Children with cancer who receive aggressive chemotherapy may lose their future fertility. Preserving the fertility of these children and treating infertile men (due to testicular abnormalities) are issues that concern many researchers around the world. Now, a research group led by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in collaboration with a research group from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology has succeeded in creating an innovative platform that improves the process of creating sperm in a laboratory thanks to to a microfluidic system using a silicon chip (PDMS).
Their research was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Biomanufacturing.
Professor Mahmoud Huleihel, from the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics at Shraga Segal, Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, examined the need for a method of producing sperm in laboratory, so it circumvents limitations such as the potential return of cancer cells to the patient’s body.
Young mice that are not yet producing sperm are a model that mimics the growth of sperm in the testis. Under laboratory conditions, it has been possible to develop a method for culturing testicular cells in an environment very close to the natural environment (at the level of the structure of spermatozoa and the cells that compose them). Using a special chip designed for the study, a complete 3D system was built, containing microfluidic channels that allow the addition of growth factors, cells from the testicles or any other cell from the tissues of the body .
The innovative system has been successfully tested on young mice (which contain primary germ cells that develop to form sperm and supporting testicular cells). The long-term culture was tested and after 5-7 weeks, tube-like seminiferous structures containing late-stage cells (ROUND SPERMATID) in the process of sperm formation were observed. Now the research group is preparing for the next phase of applying the experiment to human cells.
“This study opens a new horizon in the process of creating sperm in a culture,” says Professor Huleihel. “It enables the implementation of microfluidic-based technologies in future therapeutic strategies for infertile men and in the preservation of fertility in children undergoing aggressive chemotherapy/radiotherapy treatments that may impair their fertility at puberty. Besides, this system can also serve as an innovative platform to examine the effect of drugs and toxins on male fertility.
The research group included: Professor Emeritus Eitan Lunenfeld, Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Soroka Medical Center, currently a senior faculty member at Ariel University and Professor Gilad Yossifon of the Mechanical Engineering faculty at the Technion (currently a faculty member of the School of Mechanical Engineering at Tel Aviv University). The research was led by PhD students Ali AbuMadighem, from the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics at Shraga Segal, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Sholom Shuchat from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.
This study (no. 3425/20) was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (ISF) and in collaboration with the China Natural Science Foundation (NSFC) (ISF-NSFC), the reproduction center of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and Council for Higher Education scholarships for outstanding doctoral students from ultra-Orthodox and Arab populations.
This development is based on a registered patent held by BGN TECHNOLOGIES, the university’s technology transfer company.