How Scientists Grow Human Eggs To Maturity In Lab

A new technique pioneered by British scientists could help infertile women to conceive

In a remarkable milestone, researchers have grown human eggs from their earliest stages to maturity in a laboratory for the very first time.

The egg cells were developed right from the earliest stages in ovarian tissue all the way to full maturity.

In previous studies, scientists had developed mouse eggs in a laboratory to the stage where they produced live offspring, and had also matured human eggs from a relatively late stage of development.

While the breakthrough is huge news for people who might be struggling to start a family, experts in the field have called for caution.

"Being able to fully develop human eggs in the lab could widen the scope of available fertility treatments", she said.

However, it will be many years before the research leads to new fertility preservation treatments.

However, this approach still needs plenty of further work and refinement before it can be used. After this key step, nine out of the ten eggs were able to divide and halve their chromosomes - indicating that they have the capability to combine with sperm.

At the moment they can have ovarian tissue frozen before treatment, which is then put back in to mature years later if the patient wants children of their own.

That process raises concerns that re-implanting tissue taken prior to cancer treatment might reintroduce cancer cells into an individual's body.

'If our technique is refined, and we can show that these eggs are healthy, we could use it to produce embryos.

This procedure could not only benefit young women who experience premature fertility loss, but mature women who seek to do in vitro fertilization. The ability to make eggs in the lab offers a safer option for these patients.

While it's not readily apparent whether or not this new discovery regarding lab-grown human eggs is immediately practically applicable, it's still "extraordinarily important", according to Kyle Orwig, a stem cell biologist not involved in the study who is based at the Magee-Womens Research Institute at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, and who spoke to Science Magazine. From the samples, the team isolated follicles from which they gingerly removed 48 immature egg cells.

The study was carried out in collaboration with the Royal Infirmary Edinburgh, The Center for Human Reproduction in NY and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh.

Darren Griffin, professor of genetics at the University of Kent, said: 'It will be a while until this is implemented in the clinic but, if and when it is, this will be seen as one of the seminal advances'.

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