Scientists have succeeded for the first time in growing human eggs in a laboratory from the earliest stages in ovarian tissue all the way to full maturity – a scientific step that had previously been taken in mice.
The team says the technique could lead to new ways of preserving the fertility of children having cancer treatment.
It is also an opportunity to explore how human eggs develop, much of which remains a mystery to science.
Publishing their result in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction on Friday, scientists from Britain and the US said it could one day help in developing regenerative medicine therapies and new infertility treatments.
“Being able to fully develop human eggs in the lab could widen the scope of available fertility treatments. We are now working on optimising the conditions that support egg development in this way and studying how healthy they are,” said Evelyn Telfer, who co-led the work.
“This early data suggests this may well be feasible in the future,” said Ali Abbara, a senior clinical lecturer in Endocrinology at Imperial College London.
“(But) the technology remains at an early stage, and much more work is needed to make sure that the technique is safe and optimised before we ascertain whether these eggs remain normal during the process, and can be fertilised to form embryos that could lead to healthy babies.”
Director of germline research at University of Cambridge’s Gurdon Institute, Prof Azim Surani said Molecular characterization and chromosomal analysis is needed to show how these egg cells compare with normal eggs.
“It might be of interest to test the developmental potential of these eggs in culture to blastocyst stage, by attempting IVF.”– he added.