Sperm grown in laboratory in fertility breakthrough
Men suffering from fertility problems have been given renewed hope after a team of scientists were able to grow sperm in a laboratory.
The team of researchers were led by Professor Stefan Schlatt from Germany’s Muenster University and using just a few cells that are responsible for its production, successfully reproduced mice sperm.
They are now hoping they will be able to repeat the technique to produce human sperm, which could then be used in fertility treatments to enable infertile men to father their own children.
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Researchers from Israel’s Ben Gurion University in Beersheba were also involved in Professor Schlatt’s study and produced the sperm themselves.
Commenting on the research, one Isreali team member, Prof. Mahmoud Huleihel, said: “I believe it will eventually be possible to routinely grow human male sperm to order by extracting tissue containing germ cells from a man’s testicle and stimulating sperm production in the laboratory.”
To grow the sperm the scientists wanted to ensure they created conditions that were as similar to those found in the testicles as possible.
As a result, the germ cells were surrounded by agar jelly and grown in an environment with a temperature that was just below the normal body temperature of humans.
Professors Schlatt and Huleihel along with their teams are now trying to emulate the results in human sperm “as quickly as possible.”
"We have already applied the same tests as we did with mice in the laboratory, using human cells, but as yet have not had success,” Huleihel noted.
“We are confident that if it can be done in a mammal such as a mouse it can be done in humans.”
He added: “We are experimenting with a number of different compounds to get the germ cells to grow into sperm. And we believe it will be possible. And, hopefully, soon.”
The work carried out by the research group has received high praise from a number of fertility experts.
One of the UK’s leading fertility scientists, Professor Richard Sharpe, who is based at Edinburgh University, is hoping to get involved with the project in the near future.
He said: “This is a significant step forward towards making human sperm.”
Meanwhile, one of the NHS’ top consultants in infertility, Stephen Gordon, added: “This is an amazing development that could revolutionise fertility treatment and allow every man to be a natural father.
“Infertile men naturally want to be the father of their child but at present have to accept that can't happen,” he said. “With the mouse discovery, that could now be a possibility.”
The results of the research project have been published in a major scientific journal by Nature.
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Getting ready for cloud data-driven healthcare
As healthcare continues to recognise the value of data and digital transformation, many organisations are relying on the cloud to make their future-forward and data-centric thinking a reality. In fact, the global healthcare cloud computing market was valued at approximately $18 billion and is expected to generate around $61 billion USD by 2025.
At the forefront of these changes is the rapid adoption of cloud-based, or software-as-a-service (SaaS), applications. These apps can be used to handle patient interactions, track prescriptions, care, billing and more, and the insights derived from this important data can vastly improve operations, procurement and courses of treatment. However, before healthcare organisations can begin to dream about a true data-driven future, they have to deal with a data-driven dilemma: compliance.
Meeting regulation requirements
It’s no secret that healthcare is a highly regulated industry when it comes to data and privacy – and rightfully so. Patient records contain extremely sensitive data that, if changed or erased, could cost someone their life. This is why healthcare systems rely on legacy technologies, like Cerner and Epic EHRs, to manage patient information – the industry knows the vendors put an emphasis on making them as secure as possible.
Yet when SaaS applications are introduced and data starts being moved into them, compliance gets complicated. For example, every time a new application is introduced into an organisation, that organisation must have the vendor complete a BAA (Business Associate Agreement). This agreement essentially puts the responsibility for the safety of patients’ information — maintaining appropriate safeguards and complying with regulations — on the vendor.
However, even with these agreements in place, healthcare systems still are at risk of failing to meet compliance requirements. To comply with HIPAA, U.S. Food and Drug Administration 21 CFR Part 11 and other regulations that stipulate the need to exercise best practices to keep electronic patient data safe, healthcare organisations must maintain comprehensive audit trails – something that gets increasingly difficult when data sits in an application that resides in the vendor’s infrastructure.
Additionally, data often does not stay in the applications – instead healthcare users download, save and copy it into other business intelligence tools, creating data sprawl across the organisation and exposing patient privacy to greater risk.
With so many of these tools that are meant to spur growth and more effective care creating compliance challenges, it begs the question: how can healthcare organisations take advantage of the data they have without risking non-compliance?
Yes, healthcare organisations can adhere to regulations while also getting valuable insights from the wealth of data they have available. However, to help do this, organisations must own their data. This means data must be backed up and stored in an environment that they have control over, rather than in the SaaS vendors’ applications.
Backing up historical SaaS application data directly from an app into an organisation’s own secure cloud infrastructure, such as AWS or Microsoft Azure, makes it easier, and less costly, to maintain a digital chain of custody – or a trail of the different touchpoints of data. This not only increases the visibility and auditability of that data, but organisations can then set appropriate controls around who can access the data.
Likewise, having data from these apps located in one central, easily accessible location can decrease the number of copies floating around an organisation, reducing the surface area of exposure while also making it easier for organisations to securely pull data into business intelligence tools.
When healthcare providers have unfettered access to all their historical data, the possibilities for growth and insights are endless. For example, having ownership and ready access to authorised data can help organisations further implement and support outcome-based care. Insights enabled by this data will help inform diagnoses, prescriptions, treatment plans and more, which benefits not only the patient, but the healthcare ecosystem as a whole.
To keep optimising and improving care, healthcare systems must take advantage of new tools like SaaS applications. By backing up and owning their historical SaaS application data, they can do so while minimising the risk to patient privacy or compliance requirements. Having this ownership and access can propel healthcare organisations to be more data-driven – creating better outcomes for everyone.