Researchers Create Artificial Testicles

Ramat Gan, Israel…Dr. Nitzan Gonen, of the BIU Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences and the Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials, together with research students Aviya Stopel, Cheli Lev and Stav Dahari, have produced artificial testicles that could significantly advance the understanding of the mechanisms involved in sex determination and provide solutions for male infertility, which affects one in 12 men worldwide. Dr Gonen specializes in the process of fetal sex determination.

The testis is responsible for sperm production and testosterone synthesis. Abnormalities in testis development and function lead to disorders of sex development (DSD) and male infertility. Currently, no in vitro system exists for modeling the testis. The artificial testicles are a significant breakthrough, which may eventually lead to production of sperm in the laboratory.

The artificial testicles produced are tiny, artificial organs produced from real mouse testis, and simulate a natural testicle with a high level of accuracy. Development of organoids has greatly advanced in the last decade with the realization that two-dimensional cellular sample in vitro cannot mimic the behavior of an entire organ. Currently, organoids of the brain, kidneys, intestines, and other organs have already been produced.

“Artificial testicles are a promising model for basic research on testicle development and function, which can be translated into therapeutic applications for disorders of sexual development and infertility,” explains Dr. Gonen. In the future she plans to produce organoids using human samples. A testis produced from human cells, for example, could help children who are treated for cancer, which may impair their ability to produce functional sperm. As children are too young to produce their own sperm, these samples can be frozen and used in the future to have children. Gonen’s vision is to grow testes organoids from biopsies of children with cancer and hopefully grow fertile sperm in vitro.

The findings of this study were recently published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences.