Chinese medicine shows promise as treatment for sperm genetic abnormalities

Bioscientists from the University of Kent have called for clinical trials to further investigate how traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) may have a positive effect on sperm genetic abnormalities, and thereby influence the success rate of male infertility treatment.

A team led by Dr Darren Griffin, Reader in Genetics in the University’s Department of Biosciences, has already conducted research on six men who had very high levels of chromosome abnormalities in their sperm by following them through a course of TCM for their infertility. To the team’s surprise, each of the six men, all of whom were being treated at a Harley Street fertility clinic, showed a significant reduction in the proportion of sperm genetic abnormalities.

Dr Griffin says: ‘Genetic abnormality in sperm is quite a worry for men undergoing infertility treatment. That is, while all men have a proportion of their sperm that are genetically abnormal – maybe about five percent – many infertile men have an increased proportion – perhaps ten times as much, or more. Ordinarily, this would not present an issue in transmitting these genetic abnormalities to their children because their sperm count is usually so low that the chances of having children is reduced to negligible.

‘However, men with fertility problems are frequently treated by intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). The subsequent potential for transmitting diseases such as Klinefelter’s syndrome and Down’s syndrome, as well as the increased propensity for ICSI failure through injection of a sperm that has a chromosome abnormality, has raised considerable debate in both the scientific and popular press. To date, however, clinical intervention has been limited to screening for defects with a view to counselling of individuals with abnormally high levels about the risks of affected children and the likely success of the ICSI procedure itself. To our knowledge, there have been no studies reporting that these high levels in infertile men can, potentially, be reduced.’

However, despite the team’s findings, Dr Griffin insists that, ‘It would be unwise at this stage to suggest that the TCM treatment itself was the reason for the improvement. Nevertheless it is not unreasonable, given [our] results, to propose that placebo-controlled clinical trials should ensue to test this hypothesis.’

'Significant reduction of sperm disomy in six men: effect of traditional Chinese medicine?' by Darren Griffin, Helen Tempest, Sheryl Homa and Xiao-Ping Zhai has been published in the 'Asian Journal of Andrology'.

University of Kent

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