VAN SCOY: Science evolves faster than humans

The scientific community is continually making progress in the field of medicine in an effort to bring relief and hope to millions who suffer from currently incurable ailments. One such ailment that has plagued mankind for centuries is infertility. Even with options such as in vitro fertilization, hormone medication, surrogate parents and donors, trying to make your own family under physical restrictions is expensive and never guaranteed.

Now a revolutionary experimental process has yielded positive results – bringing new possibilities to the forefront of reproduction. Scientists in the United Kingdom have successfully created artificial sperm from mouse stem cells. Not only that, they used them to bring new life into the world via another mouse.

The implications for this amazing procedure are numerous, as the scientific community is set on making it possible for Homo sapiens as well. In fact, science is well on its way already.

Karim Nayernia, professor of stem cell biology at the Institute of Human Genetics at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, is leading research to take human bone marrow and isolate cells within to make sperm. His experiments have resulted in creating new sperm cells, although they haven’t yet managed to make them fully functional. In an estimated three to five years, this breakthrough could be available to the public as a solution to infertility in men.

As research continues, science may not only be able to provide another means to create children via stem cells, but also progress into possibly curing infertility at the source itself.

There are a few startling risks that come with this advancement. Because the cells used to make sperm would be from the infertile parent, the genetic material has a chance of passing on the infertility gene. Also, in the experiments with mice, six out of seven of the mice reached adulthood – but they had abnormalities that are usually associated with the risks of cloning: problems with breathing, growth and mobility. Although we can hope that the continued research in this field will find solutions to these issues, the mention of any of these health risks in a child is enough to put people off altogether.

Soon, women may be able to produce sperm cells from their own materials, opening the doors for lesbian couples to have their own children. If that came to light as a scientific possibility, what about making eggs from stem cells as well? Then perhaps two men could also father a child together. This may seem like a step forward in the gay community- the ability to make a family, leading to discussion over new legislation and terms – but the risks of the procedures could hinder the progress of any human rights movement.

Then, the most bizarre consideration of all: If this progresses, we may reach a point where a person could technically “mate” without a second person’s help, producing all the genetic material needed to create a new life. Woman may be the primary clients in this kind of practice, rendering men moot. Even if men were able to produce all the material needed for a child, they still couldn’t physically bring it to term, creating a proverbial power struggle between the sexes.

All these new implications and complications are overwhelming to comprehend. We can only hope that science is slow enough with this to let society catch up and try to work it out before it spills over onto us. It would be hard to predict all the politics and controversy that would explode to life if any or all of these possibilities were reached. For now, all the world can do is pray for science to continue to progress and hope society can keep it together – if not with this particular issue, then for moving forward and using it as insight to help advancements in other fields of health care.

Luci Van Scoy is a junior in anthropology from Newton.