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Human eggs made from stem cells

28th February 2012

Years could be added to a woman's reproductive cycle now that scientists have found a way to prompt human egg production from ovarian stem cells.

stem cell

The breakthrough could mean a new treatment for infertility, according to the findings, published in the journal Nature Medicine.

The team has already managed to produce immature "seed" eggs from the stem cells, although they can't be fertilised by sperm.

The findings potentially overturn a long-held scientific belief that women's egg-producing capacity tapers off as they age, and that baby girls are born with a lifetime of eggs already intact.

Researcher Jonathan L. Tilly, who directs the Vincent Center for Reproductive Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital, said the research had opened a new door in the study of human reproduction.

Not only could doctors restore a woman’s fertility; they could also possibly delay the onset of menopause.

According to reproductive medicine specialist Kutluk Oktay of the New York Medical College, the work is on the same level as the discovery of microorganisms on Mars.

However, fellow expert David F. Albertini of the University of Kansas Medical Center said he was sceptical that restoration of fertility was an option.

The ovarian stem cells found by the research team were hard to find, occurring only once in every 10,000 ovarian cells.

However, they made immature human eggs when reimplanted into human ovarian tissue. The team said they did not try to make the eggs mature because the experimental fertilisation of human eggs is illegal in the United States.

 Edinburgh University cell biology expert Evelyn Telfer said experts had believed up until now that adult women did not form new eggs.

But while there is a potential for new eggs to be formed, the findings do not show that they are produced under normal circumstances.

The work had obvious potential for practical applications, said Telfer, who has developed a technique that turns immature human eggs into mature, fertilisable eggs outside the body.

Telfer will now work on Tilly's team's "seed" eggs to encourage them to develop further.

She said the discovery had opened up a whole new field of research, and was "very exciting."

Avner Hershlag, chief of the Center for Human Reproduction at North Shore University Hospital in New York state, said the breakthrough could herald the reproductive emancipation of women, albeit not for some years.

He said the best bet for women worried about running out of time to have children was to freeze their eggs for future use.

 

 

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