Published: Fri, February 09, 2018
Health | By Jay Jacobs

In Breakthrough, Scientists Grow Human Eggs to Maturity

In Breakthrough, Scientists Grow Human Eggs to Maturity

Scientists will next evaluate the health of the eggs and whether they are viable for fertilisation.

Women undergoing premature menopause - which can strike in their 20s - could also benefit.

However, other women find it hard to activate and nurture viable eggs in the first place.

Study co-author Evelyn Telfer of the University of Edinburgh said the team was now studying how healthy the eggs are.

The research has given new understanding into how human eggs develop at various stages, they say.

Scottish scientists believe new and improved fertility treatments could arise from a landmark study which saw human eggs grown from their earliest stage to full maturity in laboratory conditions. These women may still have egg cells that could be developed in the laboratory.

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.

Now, scientists say they have demonstrated that they can take immature human eggs and grow them until they are ready to be fertilised.

Some cancer patients now have a piece of their ovary removed before treatment and re-implanted later. "(But) the technology remains at an early stage, and much more work is needed to make sure that the technique is safe and optimized before we ascertain whether these eggs remain normal during the process, and can be fertilized to form embryos that could lead to healthy babies". Only 10% of the eggs completed the journey to maturity.

Immature eggs recovered from patients' ovarian tissue could be matured in the lab and stored for later fertilisation.

Currently, women facing cancer treatment - which can destroy fertility - have two options. Among other issues, the authors note that the eggs developed faster than they would in the body, while a small cell known as a polar body - ejected in the final stages of the egg's development when the number of chromosomes is halved - was unusually large, which might suggest abnormal development.

'We are now working on optimising the conditions that support egg development in this way and studying how healthy they are.

"We also hope to find out, subject to regulatory approval, whether they can be fertilised", she said. "The next step would be to try and fertilise these eggs and then to test the embryos that were produced, and then to go back and improve each of the steps".

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