Besides a mere cutting edge laboratory curiosity, are laboratory grown human eggs the ultimate way to treat infertility caused by childhood cancers?
By: Ringo Bones
As the latest cutting edge laboratory curiosity a research team at the University of Edinburgh have for the very first time been able to successfully grow human eggs in the laboratory. The purpose of the research was originally to explore how human eggs develop into maturity, which until recently, much of it is still a mystery to science. And after the team at the University of Edinburgh had successfully done it, the team says that the technique could lead ways of preserving the fertility of children having cancer treatment.
Women are born with immature eggs in their ovaries that can develop fully only after puberty and given that aggressive chemotherapy and radioactive isotope therapy can destroy all of the egg cells and future ability for the ovaries to produce viable eggs capable of being fertilized. Women can freeze mature eggs or even embryos if they are fertilized with a partner’s sperm, before starting the chemotherapy and radioisotope therapy treatment – but this method is not possible for very young girls with childhood cancers.
It took decades of work, but scientists can now grow human eggs to maturity outside of the ovary. It requires carefully controlling laboratory conditions including oxygen levels, hormones, proteins that stimulate growth and the medium in which the eggs are cultured. But while the scientists have shown it is possible, the approach published in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction still needs refinement. It is very inefficient with only 10-percent of the eggs completing their journey to maturity. And the eggs have not been fertilized, so it is uncertain how viable they are.
One of the University of Edinburgh researchers, Prof. Evelyn Telfer, 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). But apart from any clinical applications, this is a big breakthrough in improving understanding of human egg development.” The process is very tightly controlled and timed in the human body – some eggs will mature during the teen years, others more than two decades later.