Did you know that roughly one in every four men over the age of 30 has low testosterone levels? That’s a pretty staggering thought—roughly 25% of the male population of the world suffer from chronically low levels of the hormone that plays a role in their sex drive, libido, sexual performance, and overall health. Worse still, only 5% of men have clinical symptoms that explain the deficiency.
Low testosterone is a very serious problem, one that can lead to a plethora of health problems as men age. It’s no surprise that many scientists are interested in not only understanding the endocrine problem but also trying to find ways to correct it.
One study out of China’s Jinan University may have just found a unique approach to dealing with the problem. Their solution is to use Leydig cells (stem cells) to convert skin cells into cells that produce testosterone. The Chinese researchers tested this theory on lab rats, using Leydig cells to essentially reprogram adult skin cells. The stem cells worked to change the function of the skin cells, causing the rats’ bodies to produce more testosterone. The newly transformed skin cells were actually transplanted into the rats, and the cells survived and actually effected change. After receiving the new cells, the rats’ testosterone levels returned to normal.
Until now, the use of stem cells to treat endocrine problems like low testosterone has been a pricey, time-consuming process. To add to the problem, there are also ethical concerns and a high risk of tumor development as a result of using the stem cells. But now, if this new method (stem cells rewriting the genetic code of skin cells to increase testosterone production) works, it may be a viable option for treating low testosterone.
This discovery may lead scientists down a new path to treating endocrine problems. Once the scientists understand the precise mechanisms that make the Leydig (stem) cells effective, they may be able to find more effective solutions for treating not just low testosterone, but a wide range of health problems. Cellular conversion strategies like this one (turning skin cells into testosterone-producing cells) may be the way to deal with a lot of health problems—everything from cancer to HIV to osteoporosis. It’s a step toward the future of regenerative medicine that, fingers crossed, may one day have long-lasting repercussions to benefit mankind.
1.Yang et al., “Direct Reprogramming of Mouse Fibroblasts toward Leydig-like Cells by Defined Factors,” Stem Cell Reports, doi: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2016.11.010, published 22 December 2016.