WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Scientists at the University of Edinburgh say that they were able to grow human eggs in the laboratory for the first time.
- The researchers are confident that this technique could lead to finding new methods of preserving the eggs of children undergoing cancer treatment.
- The breakthrough is also an opportunity to understand how human eggs develop and hopefully find a solution to treat infertility.
There’s a new hope for women at risk of infertility as scientists were able to develop human eggs from their earliest stages to maturity outside of the ovary.
The process has been successful for mouse eggs 20 years ago, proving the technology could be used to produce live animals. For humans, however, more research is still needed before it could be applied clinically.
The study, published in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction, is still very inefficient with only 10% of the eggs developed completely. They have also not been fertilized.
“It’s very exciting to obtain proof of principle that it’s possible to reach this stage in human tissue,” Prof Evelyn Telfer, one of the researchers, told BBC. “Apart from any clinical applications, this is a big breakthrough in improving understanding of human egg development.”
This achievement could be beneficial for children having cancer treatments since chemotherapy and radiotherapy may cause sterility. The technology of developing eggs in the lab before treatment would be a safer recourse for those patients.
“This work represents a genuine step forward in our understanding,” Stuart Lavery, a consultant gynaecologist at Hammersmith Hospital, said. “Although still in small numbers and requiring optimization, this preliminary work offers hope for patients.”
“Molecular characterization and chromosomal analysis is needed to show how these egg cells compare with normal eggs,” said Prof Azim Surani, the director of germline research at University of Cambridge’s Gurdon Institute. “It might be of interest to test the developmental potential of these eggs in culture to blastocyst stage, by attempting IVF.”
Fertilizing eggs developed in a lab to produce an embryo for research purposes is legal in the UK. But the Edinburgh team are not licensed to carry out the experiment. They will decide whether to apply for a license or collaborate with a licensed center.