New research finds lab-grown eggs could aid fertility treatments

Faith Castro
February 10, 2018

Scientists have grown human eggs to maturity in a laboratory for the first time.

While it's not readily apparent whether or not this new discovery regarding lab-grown human eggs is immediately practically applicable, it's still "extraordinarily important", according to Kyle Orwig, a stem cell biologist not involved in the study who is based at the Magee-Womens Research Institute at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, and who spoke to Science Magazine. Using various nutrients, they encouraged eggs to develop to maturity, the point at which they could be fertilized.

Modern medical technology allows mature eggs to be extracted and frozen for years, until a patient wants to use them for an IVF procedure. Another issue is that the eggs matured in just 22 days, rather than the five months it takes in a woman's body.

Evelyn Telfer, Professor of Reproductive Biology at Edinburgh University, told STV News: "What we have achieved is the ability to take the most immature stage of human egg from ovarian tissue and get it to grow outside of the body, to the point where it is mature and it is nearly at the stage where you can potentially fertilise it". Conventionally, cancer patients can have a piece of ovary removed before treatment, but reimplanting this tissue can risk reintroducing cancer.

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Telfer, who worked alongside scientists from the Center for Human Reproduction in NY, grew the eggs using samples collected from 10 women who chose to undergo caesarian sections. Experts said that much more work was needed to ensure the process was safe for humans. Plus, not all of them were the super-young eggs that had to be brought entirely through development; some had the advantage of being slightly more mature, meaning that scientists had to only partially grow them.

Close-up of the eggs in development.

A technique developed by researchers in NY and Edinburgh may change that. Prof Telfer explained that a lot of improvement in the steps is necessary before they can ideal this technique. Evelyn Telfer, one of the researchers, said, "It's very exciting to obtain proof of principle that it's possible to reach this stage in human tissue". Saitou's lab developed techniques to grow mouse egg cells from stem cells.

"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". They say there's a lot more study needed before lab-grown human eggs could safely be fertilized with sperm.

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