A team at the University of Edinburgh, working with NY scientists, developed fully grown human eggs in a laboratory using small immature egg cells removed from ovary tissue, according to a report in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction.
Additionally, the researchers say insights into the development of human eggs at various stages provided by the study could help research into other infertility treatments.
But independent experts not directly involved in this work cautioned that there is much more to do before lab-grown human eggs can be safely made ready for fertilisation with sperm. Conventionally, cancer patients can have a piece of ovary removed before treatment, but reimplanting this tissue can risk reintroducing cancer. And even if that never happens, the research has still allowed them to better understand how human eggs develop.
It may also eventually pave way for better fertility treatments in the future.
"The ability to develop human oocytes from the earliest follicular stages in vitro through to maturation and fertilization would benefit fertility preservation practice", the researchers wrote.
Women are born with immature eggs in their ovaries that can develop fully only after puberty.
'If our technique is refined, and we can show that these eggs are healthy, we could use it to produce embryos. "We also hope to find out, subject to regulatory approval, whether they can be fertilised".
And the eggs have not been fertilised, so it is uncertain how viable they are.
'It could be an alternative to conventional IVF'.
The work marks the first time that human eggs were developed outside of the body from the earliest stage to full maturity. Saitou also notes that cells called polar bodies that pinch off from an egg during development are typically small because they don't receive as much cytoplasm as the egg itself, but the polar bodies in the study were unusually large.
Darren Griffin, professor of genetics at the University of Kent, said: 'It will be a while until this is implemented in the clinic but, if and when it is, this will be seen as one of the seminal advances'.
The study, carried out by the Royal Infirmary Edinburgh, the Centre for Human Reproduction in NY and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, was supported by the Medical Research Council.
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