Protein studies may lead to infertility treatments
October 10, 2008 -- Infertility among men is a puzzle that scientists have yet to solve, but SF State biologist Diana Chu says that the proteins in sperm cells can provide vital clues about the root causes of male infertility. In an Oct. 10 article in the journal Molecular and Cellular Proteomics, Chu shows how the study of proteins could lead to new diagnostic methods and fertility treatments for couples trying to conceive.
"We suggest how the study of proteins is useful in the clinic, to help people move from infertile to fertile and ultimately to help couples have a baby," said Chu, assistant professor of biology at SF State, who co-authored the article with post-doctoral fellow Tammy Wu.
More than 2 million couples in the U.S. are facing infertility and up to 50 percent of male infertility cases have no known cause. While many studies have examined patients' supply of sperm, its ability to move and to fertilize, Chu says the study of cell proteins is a budding field with great potential to help patients. Her article highlights a selection of recent studies that have identified specific proteins that are linked with infertility.
"Similar to the rise of genomics in recent years, scientists are turning to the relatively new field of proteomics -- the study of the proteins found in a cell and their functions and how they interact," said Chu, who uses proteomic approaches in her lab at SF State to study the proteins in the sperm cells of tiny worms.
"The ultimate goal is that a doctor would be able to say to a patient, 'this is the protein that is misregulated in your sperm and this is the drug that corrects it or decreases the level of that protein,'" Chu said. The proteins found in sperm are unique which means therapies can be developed that target only these proteins, without producing unwanted side effects elsewhere in the body or the resulting offspring.
Understanding sperm proteins also means that a doctor could be able to inform patients of the likely success rates of different fertility therapies. "If there is a five percent chance of the treatment working versus an 80 percent chance, that is an important factor when couples could be spending 50,000 dollars on a course of treatment," Chu said.
Research into sperm proteins could also further understanding of the causes of miscarriages -- 50 percent of which have no known cause -- and hereditary conditions passed on through the paternal protein contribution.
"I hope this article will open scientists' eyes to the potential clinical applications of the study of proteins in sperm," Chu said. "This is an opportunity to make this science relevant to people who need health solutions."
-- Elaine Bible
Share this story: