In a revolutionary first for science and medicine, human eggs have successfully been grown in a laboratory in the United Kingdom.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh say that this new technique could lead to leaps in preserving the fertility of kids undergoing cancer treatment, the BBC reports. It also presents an opportunity for scientists to discover how human eggs develop, which remains a mystery since it happens inside a woman’s body. Women are born with ovaries containing immature eggs that only fully develop after puberty.
Decades of work have finally shown that scientists can grow eggs to maturity outside of the ovary, under strict laboratory conditions such as controlled oxygen levels, hormones, proteins that mimic growth, and the substance in which eggs are cultivated.
However, this approach still needs plenty of further work and refinement before it can be used. Only 10% of the eggs completed the journey to maturity. 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].” She added,
But apart from any clinical applications, this is a big breakthrough in improving understanding of human egg development.
Stuart Lavery, a consultant gynecologist at Hammersmith Hospital, said, “This work represents a genuine step forward in our understanding. Although still in small numbers and requiring optimization, this preliminary work offers hope for patients.”
It would be legal to fertilize one of the eggs made in the lab to create an embryo for research purposes, but the Edinburgh team needs a license to carry this experiment to that next step. They are currently deciding on whether to apply for embryo authority, or collaborate with an already-licensed center to get to the subsequent level.
The study was published in Molecular Human Reproduction.