AMERICAN scientists say they have found a way to produce human eggs from stem cells, raising hope of an advance in treating infertility in women.
The researchers say their discovery has swept away the belief women have a limited stock of eggs, and replaces it with the theory that supply is continuously replenished from precursor cells in ovaries.
”The prevailing dogma in our field for the better part of the last 50 or 60 years was that young girls at birth were given a bank account of eggs at birth that’s not renewable,” said Jonathan Tilly, director of the Vincent Centre for Reproductive Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital, who led the research.
Dr Tilly said that as a result of the findings, published in the journal Nature Medicine, ”we might get to the point of having an unlimited source of human eggs”.
In 2004 Dr Tilly discovered that ovarian stem cells in mice could create new eggs, similar to how stem cells in testes produce sperm throughout a man’s life.
The latest study proved the same was true in human ovaries, and may point to new ways to overcome infertility or preserve fertility by delaying the time when a woman’s ovaries stop functioning, Dr Tilly said.
In the study, healthy ovaries were obtained from consenting patients undergoing sex reassignment surgery.
The stem cells from the ovaries were injected into human ovarian tissue that was then grafted under the skin of mice, which provided the blood supply that enabled the cells to grow. Within two weeks, early stage human follicles with oocytes, as eggs are called, had begun to form.
Dr Tilly said his research was opening other therapeutic avenues in fertility treatment.
”The problem we face with IVF is we don’t have many eggs to work with,” he said. ”These cells are renewable. If we are successful – and it’s a big if – in generating functioning eggs from these cells, we can generate as many eggs as we need to.”
Academics said there was still a long way to go before showing the process was viable in humans.
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