For the first time in history, scientists have managed to both create eggs using stem cells and use them in IVF to produce healthy young. In a groundbreaking experiment from Japan’s Kyoto University, researchers made stem cells (so-called ‘blank cells which are capable of turning into other kinds of cells) and then turned them into early-stage eggs which where then transplanted into a mouse’s ovaries. Although the proportion of implanted embryos that went on to create healthy offspring was relatively low, it is nonetheless the first time in history that scientists have succeeded in creating fully-functional eggs. What is more, the mice born in the experiment were also healthy enough to go on to produce litters of their own.
The study, led by Japanese scientist Mitinori Saitou, has been praised worldwide. In the UK, Dr Allan Pacey, chair of the British Fertility Society, called it a “very technical piece of work which pushes further the science of how eggs are generated”. There has been much talk of how the research could lead to significant advancements in the treatment of infertility in women, which can be caused by premature menopause and some cancer treatments. It is thought that a very small amount of a woman’s skin would be sufficient as a stem cell source. Although the prospect of infertile women being able to have genetically-related children is some way in the future, the experiment has nonetheless provided great insight into female infertility and how eggs age and develop.
Many are pessimistic about how soon the conclusions of the experiment will be able to be used in relation to humans. It is thought that it could be over ten years before fertility clinics are able to use the test-tube eggs, mainly because of the stringent safety laws that are in place for testing such discoveries. Robert Norman, of the University of Adelaide, Australia, commented that there remained a long way to go; “major concerns still need to be addressed including long-term health of the offspring”. And, even if safety is assured, a change in the law would still be required before eggs of this kind could be used in the UK. Nevertheless, this scientific discovery could prove invaluable to future generations; the tiny movements of these new-born mice could well mark one giant leap for (wo)mankind.
Sources include: The Guardian, The Daily Mail
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