Scientists hope to try to fertilize the first human egg cells grown in the laboratory from stem cells later this year. Such an attempt signifies the potential to produce an unlimited supply of human eggs, a “breakthrough” in fertility treatment. It could also lead to further developments in relation to alleviating conditions associated with menopause.
University of Edinburgh researchers are working with a team from Harvard Medical School in Boston to be the first to produce mature human eggs from stem cells isolated from human ovarian tissue. They aim to request a license from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the UK fertility watchdog, to try to fertilize the lab-grown egg cells with human sperm to prove they are viable.
If any embryos were produced they would then undergo “robust” scientific and genetic testing to determine that they are normal. Current methods mean only a small number of human egg cells are generated directly from the ovaries of women who have had hormonal stimulation.
Dr. Evelyn Telfer, a reproductive biologist at the University of Edinburgh, said: “With every experiment you don’t know the outcome. Even if we get an egg fertilized, we don’t know it will be normal. Any positive results could mean a breakthrough for fertility treatment. The exciting thing is these cells have been isolated and we have many more studies to do.”
The team hopes to conduct the tests at the IVF unit at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary this year once the license is in place.