A “big breakthrough” from researchers offers promising results for women struggling to get pregnant.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom and the Center for Human Reproduction in New York say they have grown human eggs from the “earliest stage of development” to full maturity in a lab for the first time ever.
“Being able to fully develop human eggs in the lab could widen the scope of available fertility treatments,” said Evelyn Telfer, who worked on the project. “We are now working on optimizing the conditions that support egg development in this way and studying how healthy they are.”
The research, published Friday in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction, was completed with tissue from women who underwent routine surgery. And it’s especially good news for prepubescent girls undergoing treatment for cancer, according to a news release from the University of Edinburgh.
Women are born with immature eggs, which researchers say they grew to maturity in a lab with a 10 percent success rate, according to BBC. Eggs will start to mature in the body after a woman reaches puberty.
But for girls who haven’t reached puberty, scientists say they could remove their early-stage eggs before cancer treatment, preserve them for later fertilization and then grow them in a carefully maintained lab environment — if they are able to replicate and advance their findings.
It’s a safer alternative than the conventional treatment of removing a portion of a girl’s ovary before cancer treatment and putting it back in her body, because that runs the risk of giving her cancer again, according to the University of Edinburgh.
“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 told The Guardian.
The medical advancement could also help older women, too, said Stuart Lavery, a consultant gynecologist who was not a part of the study.
“The patient has to go through the quick cycle of IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) before their chemo, so it can sometimes delay things,” Lavery told The Guardian, “and also you may only get 15 eggs or so; because IVF is so inefficient, only having 10 or 15 eggs is not going to guarantee them a baby.
“With this procedure, you could potentially get thousands or hundreds of eggs.”
There’s still more research to be done. None of the eggs have been fertilized yet, according to BBC, and the 10 percent success rate shows that the process is far from perfect.
Still, the findings — made possible by decades of prior research — offer a glimpse into the potential future of fertility medicine, said Imperial College London lecturer Ali Abbara, who was not involved in the study.
“This early data suggests this may well be feasible in the future,” she told NBC. “The technology remains at an early stage, and much more work is needed to make sure that the technique is safe and optimized before we ascertain whether these eggs remain normal during the process, and can be fertilized to form embryos that could lead to healthy babies.”