Spanish researchers look to the heavens for novel medical application

Max Blenkin

There are all sorts of human uses for space, specialised low-gravity industrial production to name one. But how about an orbiting sperm bank?

According to a preliminary study from Spain, frozen sperm samples in microgravity conditions and those kept on the ground appear to retain similar characteristics.

These findings suggest that frozen sperm could be transported to space, with the possibility of creating a human sperm bank away from Earth, the researchers said.

The findings were presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology annual meeting in Vienna, Austria.

Researchers said little is known about the effect of different levels of gravity on sperm.

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“Some studies suggest a significant decrease in the motility of human fresh sperm sample,” said Dr Montserrat Boada, from Dexeus Women’s Health in Barcelona.

“But nothing has been reported on the possible effects of gravitational differences on frozen human gametes, in which state they could be transported from Earth to space.”

 

This research is very preliminary as the sperm samples used in the experiment weren’t actually sent into space.

The researchers used sperm from 10 healthy donors, exposing some of the samples to microgravity using a small aerobatic aircraft.

The samples were then analysed for concentration, motility and DNA fragmentation, routine tests performed to check for fertility. There were no significant differences found between samples kept on the ground and those exposed to microgravity.

“The lack of differences observed in the sperm characteristics between frozen samples exposed to microgravity and those maintained in ground conditions open the possibility of safely transporting male gametes to space and considering the possibility of creating a human sperm bank outside of Earth,” the researchers said.

No explanation was provided as to why a sperm bank in space would be desirable.

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