A breakthrough treatment for male infertility looks set to be on the horizon after a research team in Qatar discovered a way to overpower a genetic sperm abnormality that blocks fertilisation. How did they do it? Leading fertility specialist and director of The Fertility and Gynaecology Academy, Dr Gorgy, explains…  

A Protein You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

15 years ago, a team of scientists led by Professor Tony Lai (University of Cardiff), discovered a sperm-specific protein known as phospholipase C zeta (PLC-zeta), which is crucial to the human fertilisation process.

Why Is This Protein So Important?

A key stage of fertilisation is a repetitive, pronounced spike in calcium levels within the egg, referred to as ‘calcium oscillations’. This increase in calcium is essential for early fertilisation and early embryo development, and the calcium oscillations are triggered by a signal from the sperm, which occurs right before the forming of an embryo.

PLC-zeta protein is now known to be an essential trigger of these calcium oscillations. Research has shown that sperm that contain abnormal PLC-zeta, are unable to catalyse the necessary calcium increases. Indeed, since the discovery of this essential protein, further work has demonstrated that men with ineffectual PLC-zeta struggle to conceive even in the face of the most potent IVF interventions.

A Breakthrough In The Lab

In this latest study, Dr Nomikos (Qatar University) and collaborators confirmed that injecting abnormal PLC-zeta protein into mouse eggs at equivalent levels to that found in the semen of the infertile men meant no calcium oscillations, and thus no egg fertilisation. But when they increased the levels of PLC-zeta injected to a greater level than that which would occur naturally, the regular fertilisation process started and calcium oscillations began.

This success in the lab indicates that male infertility related to abnormal PLC-zeta could be overcome with medical interventions in the future. Professor Lai, another lead author on the current study, said: “We believe that our research can eventually give hope to many infertile couples in the near future; our goal is to help them have a family1.”

Dr Gorgy said: “We are incredibly excited at this news here, and look forward to the day when the discoveries from this research are ready to be integrated into treatment for our patients.”

The Fertility and Gynaecology Academy is the UK’s leading assisted conception centre, and our IVF/ICSI success rates are significantly higher than the national average. For a consultation, call 020 7224 1880.

References

 [1] https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-03-male-infertility-reveals-life.html