SCIENTISTS have grown human egg cells to full maturity in the lab in a potential breakthrough for fertility treatment, they announced in a study published today.
If the eggs were healthy it could allow women who were undergoing medical treatments that damage their eggs, such as chemotherapy, to store and save them for future fertilisation.
The research could be particularly relevant for girls who have not gone through puberty.
Traditionally, cancer patients can have a piece of ovary removed before chemotherapy, but reimplanting the tissue later may risk reintroducing cancer.
Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK's head cancer information nurse, said: "Fertility preservation is an important issue for many patients whose treatment could leave them infertile".
Azim Surani of the University of Cambridge pointed out that the eggs yielded by the research were smaller than normal, and "it might be of interest to test the developmental potential of these eggs". "When you have got the eggs, of course you would have no contaminating cells - hopefully it would be an embryo that you would be implanting back in", said Telfer.
Scientists have grown human eggs in a laboratory in an experiment which heralds a world where women are no longer needed to make babies.
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Writing in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction, researchers from Edinburgh and NY describe how they took ovarian tissue from 10 women in their late twenties and thirties and, over four steps involving different cocktails of nutrients, encouraged the eggs to develop from their earliest form to maturity. Using several different cocktails of nutrients, nine of 48 eggs grown from that tissue reached their full maturity. Step two: eggs more than doubled in size.
Researchers in NY and Edinburgh developed a new method to grow eggs from very early-stage cells obtained from ovary tissue, a team reported in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction. For some women, saving eggs is achievable by freezing them.
This procedure could not only benefit young women who experience premature fertility loss, but mature women who seek to do in vitro fertilization.
Publishing their result in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction on Friday, scientists from Britain and the U.S. said it could one day help in developing regenerative medicine therapies and new infertility treatments. This discovery is considered a big breakthrough for the future of fertility preservation.
In previous studies, scientists developed mouse eggs to produce live offspring and matured human eggs from a relatively late stage of development.
"We are now working on optimising the conditions that support egg development in this way and studying how healthy they are".
Prof Robin Lovell-Badge, a group leader at the Francis Crick Institute, was also cautious, noting it was possible that not all of the eggs were at the earliest stage of development to start with. "We also hope to find out, subject to regulatory approval, whether they can be fertilized".