Monday 18 September 2023 - Infertility rates have increased around the world in recent decades, with male infertility in particular a major problem. Dr Yoni Baert of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel is studying the increase in infertility among men. Despite the trend, there is currently no relevant model to allow scientists to carry out in-depth studies outside the body. “Testicular organoids from human medical waste may be a substitute for laboratory animals,” says Baert.

Male fertility is noticeably declining around the world. “Sperm production has fallen by almost half in the last 50 years, so something is clearly wrong,” says Baert. “There is indirect evidence pointing to the negative impact of things we ingest through the air and food or that our skin comes into contact with. Those substances likely interfere with the normal functioning of the testes. In addition, there are many causes that aren’t yet known. So there is an urgent need for a study model for the testes, for basic research on both the functioning of the reproductive system and the impact of certain substances. Today, researchers tend to use animal testing for these purposes.”

Baert wants to introduce a model based on organoids. An organoid is an artificial organ made in the lab from stem cells. Until now, Baert has used cells from mice in his research, but he has found a human alternative. “Medical waste, human tissue discarded after surgery, could be an interesting solution,” he says. “Normally that waste is discarded after an operation. But it sometimes comes from very large organs from which we can extract millions, sometimes even billions, of cells that we can perform in vitro research on.” No animal testing would therefore be required and the cells would come from a human source. “I’m committed to animal-free research,” says Baert. “First, it’s not nice to work with laboratory animals, it costs a lot of money and it’s also not always applicable. Indeed, the results of studies carried out on animals are not always relevant to humans. There are so many downsides to it. Sometimes there’s no other way, we have to face that, but if we can avoid it then that should be our goal.”

About Yoni Baert

Dr. Yoni Baert is part of the VUB research group In Vitro Toxicology & Dermato-Cosmetology (IVTD) and Biology of the Testis (BITE). He is also a member of IC-3Rs, a VUB innovation centre that promotes the “3R” principle of animal testing: replacement of animal testing by other research methods, reduction of the number of lab animals and refinement of tests to ensure less distress and improve animal welfare. The centre shares knowledge about animal-free research methods.

Joint 3R Symposium

From 19-21 September, VUB innovation centre IC-3Rs, EU-funded research project EU-TWINALT and animal welfare database RE-Place are holding a symposium on animal-free research methods on the VUB campus in Jette. Researchers from around the world will share their insights on animal-free methods. The symposium is just one of the organisers’ initiatives to raise awareness and engage scientists, public research institutions, industry and other stakeholders to replace animal testing with alternative methods when scientifically appropriate.

At the symposium on 21 September, Dr. Yoni Baert will speak about his animal-free, human-relevant in vitro model for male infertility research.

See the programme here.