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First human eggs grown in laboratory offer fertility hope

09 February 2018

The egg cells were developed right from the earliest stages in ovarian tissue all the way to full maturity.

In a revolutionary first for science and medicine, human eggs have successfully been grown in a laboratory in the United Kingdom.

Experts say the latest development could not only aid the understanding of how human eggs develop, but open the door to a new approach to fertility preservation for women at risk of premature fertility loss - such as those undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy. These women may still have egg cells that could be developed in the laboratory.

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.

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

The technique has been pioneered by Professor Evelyn Telfer and colleagues at Edinburgh University. The technique could offer cancer patients a promising new type of fertility treatment. The other option sees ovarian tissue removed and reimplanted after treatment. And pre-puberty girls don't produce mature eggs that could be frozen.

Women who undergo chemotherapy for cancer treatment, which can cause sterility, stand to benefit the most if scientists are able to ideal the new technique.

Professor Daniel Brison, of the department of reproduction at the University of Manchester, said: "This is an exciting breakthrough which shows for the first time that complete development of human eggs in the laboratory is possible, more than 20 years after this was achieved in mice".

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But Dr Ali Abbara, of London's Imperial College, said: "Much more work is needed to make sure it's safe". This discovery is considered a big breakthrough for the future of fertility preservation.

The study, carried out by the University of Edinburgh in collaboration with the Royal Infirmary Edinburgh, The Center for Human Reproduction in NY and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, is published in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction.

Telfer admits far more research is necessary, and hopes to get regulatory approval for future research.

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First human eggs grown in laboratory offer fertility hope