Aug. 20-26, 1999
Vol. 29, Issue 25
Inside UVA Online
the Newsletter for Faculty & Staff at the University of Virginia
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Researchers find key to infertility problem

U.Va. begins water conservation efforts
New pre-tax benefit

Cocaine addiction linked to biological clock
Training program for child care workers offered
Brown Grounds

Ways to prevent juvenile violence

Bioethics advice goes online
Teaching workshop Aug. 25-26
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Researchers find key to infertility problem

Stephanie Gross
Alan B. Diekman, assistant professor of research in U.Va.'s Contraceptive Vaccine Center, found a substance on sperm that can cause an immune response, leading to infertility. The discovery might also help researchers at the center, headed by cell biology professor John C. Herr, in developing a new birth control method using antibodies -- essentially a vaccine against sperm.

By Marguerite Beck and Anne Bromley

Researchers at the U.Va. Contraceptive Vaccine Center have shown that one cause of infertility can be traced to the body's immune system producing antibodies against sperm.

Physical or hormonal abnormalities account for most infertility problems, but for 10 to 20 percent of infertile couples, the cause remains unknown. Infertility specialists had suspected some kind of immunity-related cause. Now, the U.Va. research team, headed by assistant professor Alan B. Diekman in the laboratory of John C. Herr, has identified a human sperm protein that contains a unique sugar that the body mistakenly interprets as something foreign. Antibodies, the substances that target foreign matter (known as antigens), may develop in either the male or female partner to go after the sugar antigen, inhibiting sperm function.

Reporting in the August issue of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal, the researchers compared the antibody from an infertile woman with immunity to sperm to a monoclonal antibody they created in the course of working on development of a contraceptive vaccine. The human antibody was isolated by a research group at the Hyogo Medical College in Hyogo, Japan. Both antibodies targeted the same kind of sperm protein.

Sperm antigens are normally protected from the immune system of both sexes by a combination of physical and immunochemical barriers. A breakdown in any of these barriers or exposure of the immune system to sperm proteins can lead to an immune reaction against sperm and result in reduced fertility. In such cases, anti-sperm antibodies may impair fertility by inhibiting sperm transport and/or sperm-egg interactions.

"We anticipate that this and future studies will contribute to improved diagnosis and treatment for this type of human infertility," Diekman said.

Diekman, Herr and colleagues at the Contraceptive Vaccine Center also plan to use the information obtained from this study in the development of antibody-based birth control methods.

University decides not to build branch college in Qatar

Citing difficulties with meeting accreditation standards, the University has decided against opening a branch college in the Arab nation of Qatar, U.Va. President John T. Casteen III announced last week. In releasing the following statement, he said the University would consider other options in international education. Full statement.


© Copyright 1999 by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia

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