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Groundbreaking infertility research
dispells the myth of mice and men

Innovative new research on infertility in men, funded by the Lord Dowding Fund (LDF), challenges the belief that, in laboratory tests, mice are a good substitute for men.

Scientists at Birmingham Women's Hospital identified clear species differences between rodents and humans on almost every biological level, despite the fact that we share 99% of the same genes. Led by Professor Christopher Barratt at the Assisted Conception Unit, the team found that mice were a poor model for men in reproductive medicine. There are several intrinsic differences in the way mice and men produce sperm cells.

The researchers also discovered a way to culture human semen-carrying tubes, found in the testes, effectively replacing the use of mice in experiments. The LDF, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, has recently extended funding for the research for the third successive year.

Senior Research Fellow, Dr Ian Brewis, who contributed to the research said: "In the very large field of reproductive medicine there is still an overwhelming obsession with performing research in animals, particularly rodents but also livestock. We believe very strongly that this is totally unjustifiable and unwarranted, as there is now good evidence that there are marked differences at the cellular, molecular, tissue and whole organism level between humans and animals. Co-workers, previously stuck in the mud with their animal work, are now taking notice of human research as a result of data we are producing."

The new research by Birmingham Women's Hospital used proteomics, the identification of all the proteins in a particular cell type, to examine proteins involved in sperm development.

Unravelling these complex proteins has been assisted by studying the semen samples of five brothers from Jordan with a rare condition called globozoospermia, where sperm is round-headed and cannot penetrate the egg. Results are then compared to data from the Human Genome Project. To date, 100 protein differences have been identified during the course of funding by the LDF.

Jan Creamer, Chief Executive of the LDF said: "We're delighted to be funding such advanced techniques that are now setting the standard for future research in fertility. One of the most exciting developments to come out of this study is that the researchers are sharing their methods and data with other scientists - and that means thousands of animals will be saved from unnecessary suffering."

The Lord Dowding Fund is the research wing of the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS). Founded 30 years ago, the LDF awards grants totalling £250,000 a year to fund humane research across a wide range of fields, including microsurgery, toxicology, breast and lung cancer, Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, cot death, cataracts and brain damage. Named after WW1 Air Chief Marshal, Lord Dowding, a former President of the NAVS, LDF also supports new and advanced methods of research such as cell culture, biotechnology, brain imaging and computer packages which replace the use of animals in the education of school and university level students.