RESEARCHERS IN EDINBURGH have managed to grow human eggs in a laboratory for the first time.
They say that their method could have practical applications for fertility in the future, allowing women and girls undergoing cancer treatment the chance to have children in later life.
The scientists were able to take the cells of an egg from ovary tissue at the earliest stage of development and grow them into fully developed eggs, ready for fertilisation.
As chemotherapy can damage eggs and cancer patients can often have a piece of ovary removed during treatment, this process would allow immature eggs to be recovered from patients, grown in the lab and be stored for future fertilisation.
The researchers said that their latest results build on 30 years of research, using tissue donated by women who were undergoing routine surgery.
Previous studies had developed mouse eggs to produce live offspring, but this is the first a time a human egg has been matured from its earliest stage of development.
The next step now is seeing if these mature eggs can be fertilised in a healthy and safe way, for which the team at Edinburgh will have to obtain a licence from the relevant authorities.
Professor Evelyn Telfer, lead researcher on the project, told the BBC: “It’s very exciting to obtain proof of principle that it’s possible to reach this stage in human tissue.
But that has to be tempered by the whole lot of work needed to improve the culture conditions and test the quality of the oocytes [eggs]. But apart from any clinical applications, this is a big breakthrough in improving understanding of human egg development.
Further research will also be required to test whether this is a practical solution, as currently only 10% of the eggs used by the researchers complete their journey to maturity.
She added: “Being able to fully develop human eggs in the lab could widen the scope of available fertility treatments.”