Identifying Dysfunctional Sperm: Proteomics
Scientists involved in a new field of scientific discipline, known as proteomics, or the study of the functions of proteins in a cell, say this science can be applied to infertility and may help determine which proteins in sperm cells aren't functioning. Sperm contains proteins and scientists think these may be crucial to our understanding of male infertility. Learning about these proteins may lead to new methods of diagnosis and treatments for unexplained male infertility. This is according to a recent paper published by the journal Molecular and Cellular Proteomics (MCP).
Co-authors of the study, Diana Chu, assistant professor of biology at San Francisco State University and Tammy Wu, a post-doctoral fellow at this institution emphasize that half of all male infertility cases have an unknown cause and this means that no rational treatment plan can be developed. The San Francisco researchers believe that proteomics might add another layer of understanding in a little understood condition and state that, "In-depth study of the molecular basis of infertility has great potential to inform the development of sensitive diagnostic tools and effective therapies."
The October 2008 issue of MCP is devoted to current clinical applications of proteomics. Chu says that with the aid of proteomics, a best case scenario might have a doctor tell a patient which protein in his sperm is causing his infertility and what drug he might take to correct the problem. Once a doctor can factor in for sperm protein dysfunction, he can better assess which fertility treatments are most liable to succeed and save couples much heartbreak as well as the high cost of therapies that may or may not succeed.
Today's science can help us look at the supply of sperm and analyze its mobility and its powers of fertility, but more sensitive tests, such as those that study cell proteins may help find the reasons behind the phenomena we can already identify. Because the proteins found in sperm cells are specific to these cells, therapies could be found that focus on these proteins without causing side effects or birth defects in any resultant offspring. Chu's paper cites studies in which specific proteins have been identified that are found in cases of infertility.
The biologist argues for clinical studies on a wider scale so that researchers might identify the patterns of these dysfunctional sperm proteins. Sperm cells contain over 2000 proteins so finding these patterns are crucial in helping scientists to know which proteins deserve their focus. Such studies may also aid in our understanding of miscarriages, half of which have no known cause.