Researchers from Edinburgh and New York have made significant steps forward in the fertility preservation field after successfully growing human eggs in the laboratory.
The research, published in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction, outlines how human eggs can be grown from early stages through to maturity in the lab.
In the study, researchers took ovarian tissue from ten women in their late twenties and thirties and after a number of steps were able to develop the eggs through to maturity.
According to the research team, this advancement might prove of importance to young women at risk of premature fertility loss such as women undergoing cancer therapies including radio and chemotherapy.
Co-author of the research Prof Evelyn Telfer from the University of Edinburg says the approach may well be practically implemented in the future as an alternative to freezing and treating eggs to be implanted at a later stage.
The new research offers a means for the eggs to be extracted, grown and utilised without having to re-implant the tissue. “When you have got the eggs, of course you would have no contaminating cells – hopefully it would be an embryo that you would be implanting back in,” Telfer said.
The study also gives the opportunity to research and reveal more details about how human eggs develop.
Even though scientists were previously able to grow mouse eggs in the laboratory to the point where fertilisation resulted in live offspring, the same has not yet been possible for human eggs.
While the study has been praised by experts it is evident that more research is needed before the approach can be implemented clinically. Out of the 48 eggs that reached the second last step, only nine reached full maturity and since no eggs have been fertilised it not clear whether the eggs will in fact be viable.
According to Telfer, testing the viability of the eggs will be the next step in the research.
“The next step would be to try and fertilise these eggs and then to test the embryos that were produced, and then to go back and improve each of the steps.”