In a move likely to lead to improved fertility treatments, human eggs have been fully grown for the first time in a laboratory at the University of Edinburgh, The Hindustan Times reports.
Scientists from Britain and the US have grown egg cells, which were removed from ovary tissue at their earliest stage of development, to the point at which they are ready to be fertilised.
The advance could potentially help cancer patients wishing to preserve their fertility while undergoing chemotherapy treatment and deepen scientific understanding of the biology of the earliest stages of human life.
“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,” Evelyn Telfer of the university’s School of Biological Sciences, one of the researchers, was quoted as saying in a university statement.
She told the BBC: “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 study has been published in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction.
In previous studies, scientists had developed mouse eggs in a laboratory to the stage where they produced live offspring, and had also matured human eggs from a relatively late stage of development.
Immature eggs recovered from patients’ ovarian tissue could be matured in the lab and stored for later fertilisation, the statement said. The findings could also help in developing regenerative medicine therapies and new infertility treatments.
Scientists and medical experts worked together to develop suitable substances in which eggs could be grown – known as culture mediums – to support each stage of cell development.
Their findings, using tissue donated by women who were undergoing routine surgery, build on 30 years of research.
Independent experts not directly involved in the work praised it as important but cautioned that there is much more to do before lab-grown human eggs could safely be made ready for fertilisation with sperm.
“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.”