Scientists have succeeded in growing early-stage human egg cells to full maturity in a laboratory for the first time, according to a study released on Friday.
Publishing their result in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction , scientists from Britain and the US said it could one day help in developing regenerative medicine therapies and new infertility treatments.
While the feat has previously been achieved for mouse eggs, and has given rise to live young after fertilisation, the process has proved tricky in humans. Experts say the latest development could not only aid the understanding of how human eggs develop, but open the door to a new approach to fertility preservation for women at risk of premature fertility loss – such as those undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
“This is an elegant piece of work,” Channa Jayasena of the Imperial College London told AFP news agency, yet he added: “It would take several years to translate this [technique] into a therapy.”
“Much more work is needed to make sure that the technique is safe and optimized before we ascertain whether these eggs … can be fertilized,” Ali Abbara, also from Imperial College London, told Reuters news agency.
The research could be particularly relevant for girls who have not gone through puberty. Currently, to preserve their fertility ovarian tissue is taken before treatment and frozen for later implantation.
If success and safety rates were improved, it could in future help cancer patients wishing to preserve their fertility while undergoing chemotherapy treatment, improve fertility treatments, and deepen scientific understanding of the biology of the earliest stages of human life.