Scientists, for the first time, were able to grow human eggs and let them develop to full maturity in a lab. This new feat could lead to new and better fertility treatments in the future.
The first-of-its-kind study, the findings of which were published last week in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction, was conducted by scientists from the U.S. and the U.K. The lab-grown human eggs are not fertilized and scientists have to prove first that they are viable. If fertilization using these eggs is possible, it could help people who are having difficulty conceiving.
Women are born with millions of eggs that develop one at a time. The process takes place in the ovarian follicles and it would take months before they reach maturity. Each month, when a woman ovulates, one fully mature egg gets released from the follicle and will become ready for fertilization.
Standard fertility treatments involve harvesting a woman's eggs from the ovaries. These eggs will be kept either for in vitro fertilization or frozen for future use. However, this method will require a mature egg that is ready to be fertilized. In this case, women need to take hormones to stimulate egg maturation in the ovaries. But with this new process of growing human eggs in a lab, there is no need for women to take hormones to have their eggs extracted.
In this experimental method, the eggs are harvested directly from the ovarian tissue at an earlier stage and allowed to mature in the lab. The same technique has been used previously using mouse eggs and it even resulted in the creation of a live offspring, IFLScience reported. But even then, researchers had difficulties in replicating this method using human cells.
John Hopkins University fertility expert Mindy Christianson believes this new technique will benefit not only women with fertility issues but also those young cancer patients who have their fertility affected with chemotherapy, National Geographic reported.
Although this could be a promising achievement, scientists acknowledge that there is more work to be done before the method can be used on women with fertility issues. Out of the 48 eggs grown in the lab, only nine of them were able to reach full maturity. Also, David Albertini, co-author of the study told CNN that the lab-grown human eggs are found to have abnormalities.
"When we really examine these eggs, we could tell that there were a lot of things wrong with them, but by knowing what's wrong with them, then that allows us to go back and refine the technology."Albertini hopes that with continued research, the abnormalities seen in the lab-grown human eggs will disappear and thus result in a good quality egg that's ready for fertilization.