Friday, 23 February, 2018

In Breakthrough, Scientists Grow Human Eggs to Maturity

Hopes growing after fertility treatment breakthrough Breakthrough as human eggs developed in the lab for first time
Johnnie Parks | 10 February, 2018, 02:13

Scientists say they have made a breakthrough that could lead to improved fertility treatments after growing human eggs to maturity in a United Kingdom laboratory.

They say that their method could have practical applications for fertility in the future, allowing women and girls undergoing cancer treatment the chance to have children in later life.

The new research offers a way for eggs to be extracted, grown and used, without the need to re-implant the tissue.

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.

Egg cell maturation is the process in which human egg cells develop to a stage where they can be fertilised. Following four steps that the team outlines in the study, the eggs were developed to reach maturity. Step two: eggs more than doubled in size.

The applications of these lag-grown human eggs include women who have undergone chemotherapy, which has the potential to damage eggs beyond fix.

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Some 87 follicles - tissue containing immature eggs - were developed.

The study - published in the Molecular Human Reproduction journal - represents the first time a human egg has been developed in the laboratory from earliest stage to full maturity.

Decades of work have finally shown that scientists can grow eggs to maturity outside of the ovary, under strict laboratory conditions such as controlled oxygen levels, hormones, proteins that mimic growth, and the substance in which eggs are cultivated. "With this [new] procedure, you could potentially get thousands or hundreds of eggs".

"What it means for us is that we now have the opportunity to stage the whole process of human egg development which we have never really had".

There has been a cautious welcome for the news from one of Ireland's leading fertility experts. It is not clear how healthy the final eggs produced are as the speed of maturation in the lab was significantly faster than it would occur in the human body. "We are now working on optimizing the conditions that support egg development in this way and studying how healthy they are". This discovery is considered a big breakthrough for the future of fertility preservation.

"We also hope to find out, subject to regulatory approval, whether they can be fertilised", she said.

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