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Human eggs grown in a laboratory for the first time

13 February 2018 12:49

Artificial insemination process

Artificial insemination process

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have announced that they have grown human eggs in a laboratory for the first time.

The technique they used may now lead to new ways of preserving the fertility of children going through cancer treatment, the team explained.

It also offers more opportunity to explore how human eggs develop.

An exciting breakthrough

Women are born with immature eggs in their ovaries which develop over the course of puberty and scientists have been working for decades to find ways to grow eggs to maturity outside the ovary. It is a complex process involving controlling oxygen levels, hormones, proteins and the medium in which the eggs are cultured.

"This is an exciting breakthrough for the research of fertility and the reproductive system, but there is still a lot of work to be done", the team said.

Professor 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."

"But that has to be tempered by the whole lot of work needed to improve the culture conditions and test the quality of the oocytes [eggs]."

The approach still needs refining, however. It was inefficient insofar as only 10% of the eggs completed their journey to maturity, and they were not fertilised, so it is unsure how viable they are.

It is still considered by the researchers who conducted the study to be "a big breakthrough in improving understanding of human egg development", according to Prof Telfer.

Hope for patients

Undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy has risks of infertility.

For adults who undergo the treatment, there is the option of freezing matured eggs or embryos, but this is not currently possible for child patients.

Being able to make eggs in a lab would be the safest option for younger patients.

Mr Stuart Lavery, a consultant gynaecologist at Hammersmith Hospital, described the research results as "a genuine step forward in our understanding".

He said: "Although still in small numbers and requiring optimisation, this preliminary work offers hope for patients."

The team in Edinburgh currently do not hold a license which allows them to fertilise one of the lab-made eggs to see if they can create an embryo.

It is discussing applying to the embryo authority to obtain a license or collaborating with another centre that already has one.

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