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Scientists identify new male infertility syndrome

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) -- Genetics or environmental factors, or both, could be causing a new syndrome whose symptoms include male infertility and rising rates of testicular cancer, Danish researchers said on Monday.

Falling sperm counts, an increase in testicular cancer and abnormalities in male sex organs are treated as separate disorders but Professor Neils Skakkebaek and his colleagues at Copenhagen University Hospital believe they are related and part of what they call Testicular Dysgenesis Syndrome (TDS).

"These conditions do not occur at random; they may all be symptoms of an underlying Testicular Dysgenesis Syndrome," Skakkebaek told the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) meeting.

He said during the past four or five decades male reproductive functions had deteriorated. In Nordic countries, studies had shown that men born in the 1960s and 70s had lower sperm counts than men born decades earlier.

Younger men in their 20s in Denmark had even poorer quality sperm, showing a clear trend influenced by the year of birth, according to Skakkebaek.

"TDS may be caused by genetic or environmental factors or a combination of both. But there is growing evidence from clinical observation of individual patients and from larger epidemiological studies that there is a synchronized increase between countries in male reproductive problems," said Skakkebaek.

About one in six couples have some form of fertility problems. In 40 percent of cases it is due to a male factor.

Skakkebaek and his team believe the problems begin in the womb with the formation of the sex organs. They think the disorders should be considered as related complaints with a common underlying cause.

"Biological and epidemiological studies leave little doubt that TDS can be a result of disruption in embryonic programming and the development of the sex organs in the fetus," he explained.

"As the rise in the incidence of the various symptoms of TDS has occurred rapidly over few generations, we must consider that adverse environmental factors such as hormone disruptors, probably acting on a genetic susceptibility, could be to blame."

Hormone disruptors, which are also known as gender-bending chemicals, are compounds used in paints, pesticides and detergents that can disrupt natural hormones in the body causing birth defects and other problems in humans.

Skakkebaek and his team called for more studies that focus on trends in male reproductive health problems and not on particular symptoms to establish the causes of TDS.

"It gives us some points towards which we should be focusing on in the future," Professor Lynn Fraser, the president of ESHRE, told the meeting.

More than 4,000 scientists, researchers and fertility experts are attending the four-day conference that is focusing on the causes and treatments for male and female fertility problems.

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• E.S.H.R.E.
• Center for Human Reproduction

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