London - Male menopause may in future be solved by an injection of a patient’s own cells to boost his testosterone.
As men age, their testosterone levels fall, often causing fatigue, low libido and depression.
A growing number of men take testosterone, which boosts confidence but raises the risk of prostate cancer and strokes. Now there may be a better solution, after scientists successfully created cells which produce testosterone in the lab.
Skin cells are reprogrammed to become pluripotent stem cells, which can become any type of cell in the body. They are grown in a dish of carefully selected nutrients to create a man’s own supply of testosterone.
Dr Vassilios Papadopoulos, senior author of the study from the University of Southern California, said: "Taking testosterone, you feel better, you lose weight, erectile function returns. Men love testosterone.
"But our study provides a way to generate possible transplantation materials for clinical therapies, as well as a path toward testing and developing new drugs." For the first time, scientists have created cells almost identical to the cells in the testes that produce testosterone.
Allan Pacey, from Sheffield University, who was not involved with the study, said: "There is certainly a need to develop some way of kick-starting the testosterone production in the testicles of men who suffer with low testosterone.
"The idea of doing a Leydig cell transplant is intriguing. But I’d like to see much more data before I’d be convinced it was the right way to go."
The authors believe testosterone injections are still five to 10 years away. Up to half of men over 60 have problematically low testosterone levels, well beyond those of younger men in their twenties.
That is because they either are less sensitive to the hormone which causes testosterone to be produced or the ageing testis loses their ability to make testosterone.
However, taking testosterone, as many approach their GP to try to do, can cause problems such as infertility when the body stops making its own testosterone, which is needed to produce sperm.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was successful where others have failed.
Previous attempts to make testosterone-producing cells have instead come up with the stress hormone cortisol.
But the latest attempt, using collagen in the lab dish, produced cells which look the same as those found in the testicles under a microscope.