Women facing infertility have been given new hope after British scientists managed to grow human eggs in a laboratory for the first time. But for young women and pre-pubescent teens who experience premature fertility loss due to things like cancer, this could provide a safer opportunity to have children compared to previously used methods. It is not clear how healthy the final eggs produced are as the speed of maturation in the lab was significantly faster than it would occur in the human body.
Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK's head cancer information nurse, said: "Fertility preservation is an important issue for many patients whose treatment could leave them infertile".
The team at the University of Edinburgh removed egg cells from ovary tissue at the earliest stage of development, before growing them to the point at which they were ready to be fertilised. The study reported on Friday in the journal "Molecular Human Reproduction" was the first time that the approach has been used on human eggs, the University of Edinburgh said in a statement.
Lead researcher Professor Evelyn Telfer, of the University of Edinburgh's school of biological sciences, said: "Being able to fully develop human eggs in the lab could widen the scope of available fertility treatments".
It's hoped the experiment could mark a breakthrough in improving fertility treatment.
He said: 'This study demonstrates that there is much laboratory research to be undertaken before we can be encouraged to believe that we will achieve healthy normal eggs for clinical purposes in vitro developed follicles derived from human ovarian cortical tissue'.
Some cancer patients now have a piece of their ovary removed before treatment and re-implanted later.
With the new technique, immature eggs recovered from patients' ovarian tissue can be taken without any delay. "We are now working on optimizing the conditions that support egg development in this way and studying how healthy they are".
They can have their eggs stimulated with daily hormone injections, but this delays cancer treatment for two or three months.
Professor Telfer told the Daily Mail: 'This is a huge advance in basic science but it also has potential practical applications.
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