Scientists have devised a new computational method that reveals genetic patterns in the massive jumble of individual cells in the body. The work will immediately apply to male infertility.
The discovery, published in the journal eLife, will be useful in discerning patterns of gene expression across many kinds of disease, including cancer. Scientists worked out the formulation by testing tissue taken from the testes of mice. With those results, they’re already applying the same analysis to biopsies taken from men with unexplained infertility.
The scientists made the breakthrough by applying a data analysis method known as sparse decomposition of arrays, or SDA. “What we’re really doing is building a dictionary that describes how genes change at a single-cell level,” said co-senior author Donald Conrad, Ph.D., associate professor and chief of the Division of Genetics in the Oregon National Primate Research Center at Oregon Health & Science University.
Current measures to treat male infertility involve focus on managing defects in the sperm itself, including through in vitro fertilization. However, those techniques don’t work in all cases. “We’re talking about the problem where you don’t make sperm to begin with,” Conrad said.
This new technique could open new opportunities to diagnose a specific genetic defect and then potentially rectify it with new gene-editing tools such as CRISPR. “The opportunity provided by CRISPR, coupled to this kind of diagnosis, is really a match made in heaven,” Conrad said.