Male fertility and reduced sperm quality plays a role in half of the cases of couples who cannot conceive. Research into the various causes of reduced sperm quality is hampered by incomplete knowledge of male reproductive biology. Therefore, Guillaume Richer of the Biology of the Testis research group at the Free University of Brussels developed a 3D model of the testis or testicle for his PhD study. Richer used a technique to make molds out of alginate or agarose into which primary testicular cells from mice were introduced. The cells were found to organize themselves at a specific density and under the influence of certain growth factors into tube-like structures, similar to those present in a working testicle. The tube-like structures are also the functional anatomical unit where sperm cells are produced. Thus, in the model, the cells by themselves are able to restore the architecture of the testis. "During a first set of experiments, however, germ cell production decreased noticeably," says Richer. "In the second set of experiments, we did manage to get the germ cells to survive long-term and eventually produce spermatids in most cases. These are very important results because the model can be used for other applications in the future." Richer’s research fits into the broader goal of the Biology of the Testis research group to better understand the architecture and physiology of the testis. With the model, for example, the effects of so-called endocrine disruptors (e.g., PFAS) on testis development and sperm production can be better investigated.
Richer G., Hobbs R., Loveland K., Goossens E., Baert Y. (2021). Frontiers in physiology.
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