Scientists grow human eggs to maturity in lab

The new breakthrough could assist those with early menopause or cancer patients

The new breakthrough could assist those with early menopause or cancer patients

Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK's head cancer information nurse, said: "Fertility preservation is an important issue for many patients whose treatment could leave them infertile".

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.

However, other women find it hard to activate and nurture viable eggs in the first place.

The team say the technique could lead to new ways of preserving the fertility of children having cancer treatment.

But apart from any clinical applications, this is a big breakthrough in improving understanding of human egg development.

Human eggs have been fully grown in a laboratory, in a move that could lead to improved fertility treatments...

Eggs and their surrounding cells are then removed from liquid culture to undergo further development in a nutrient-rich membrane. Conventionally, cancer patients can have a piece of ovary removed before treatment, but reimplanting this tissue can risk reintroducing cancer.


With the new technique, immature eggs recovered from patients' ovarian tissue can be taken without any delay.

Now, scientists say they have demonstrated that they can take immature human eggs and grow them until they are ready to be fertilised.

Writing in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction, researchers from Edinburgh and NY describe how they took ovarian tissue from 10 women in their late twenties and thirties and, over four steps involving different cocktails of nutrients, encouraged the eggs to develop from their earliest form to maturity. This knowledge could boost understanding of infertility treatments and regenerative medicine. Here, they have, through meticulous experimentation, worked out how to complete the third and final stage.

"This latest breakthrough is valuable, [but] significant further research is now needed to confirm that these eggs are healthy and functioning as they should do", said Prof Helen Picton, an expert in reproduction and early development from the University of Leeds.

And Robin Lovell-Badge of The Francis Crick Institute said the procedure was "really quite inefficient", with only nine out of dozens of early-stage cells becoming mature eggs.

"We also hope to find out, subject to regulatory approval, whether they can be fertilised", she said.

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