It’s a scientific breakthrough that’s been hailed ‘remarkable’ by biology experts.
For the first time ever, artificial eggs have been grown in a laboratory petri dish with stem cells, and used to create breathing, living animals.
The stem cell marvel, if it’s compatible with humans, could assist more hopeful women in becoming happy mothers. Though all women are born with eggs, conceiving a child becomes much more difficult with age, as the eggs grow old with the host. Women who are innately born with fewer eggs than average, and women whose ovaries have ceased releasing eggs altogether would also benefit from the technique.
The eggs and resulting embryos created through stem cells would be brand new, meaning women would not only be able to give birth, but to a potentially healthier baby.
Amazingly, the scientists involved in the embryonic stem cell research say their technique can even bring back extinct animals.
“This is the first time a functional egg has been produced from stem cells in culture which gives us some clue to human egg production from stem cells,” said Professor Katsuhiko Hayashi, from the department of developmental stem cell biology at Kyushu University.
“We need to now carefully look at the quality of mouse artificial eggs. This kind of quality check will contribute to an application to humans in future.”
WHAT WAS THE PROCESS?
Through the flexible and adaptable niche of stem cell research & technology, scientists in Japan did the seemingly impossible in extracting cells from mice’s tails, reprogrammed them into stem cells, where they then turned them into eggs. The ‘eggs in a dish’ were fertilized, and the man-made embryos were inserted in female mice, which gave birth to 11 healthy offspring.
The tail cells from the mice were reprogrammed into pluripotent stem cells, which is commonly utilized within stem cell research, thanks to its inimitable property of producing any type of cell.
From there, the researchers next task was creating a ‘chemical soup’ that replicated the conditions of an ovary. The idea here was to encourage the stem cells to become follicles, or the small tubes in ovaries that produce eggs naturally. Once the ‘fake’ follicles formed, the scientists harvested the new, healthy eggs.
THE ‘FIRST CONVINCING EVIDENCE’
Usually, with the discovery of new stem cell treatments or stem cell uses, there’s an ethical backlash against the research. Essentially ‘growing’ living animals is unnatural, and with the idea of adapting this technique for humans, it’s an unsettling thought that there could be artificial lab babies in the future.
But, that hasn’t been the case with this stem cell story, not yet anyway. Most experts acclaim the research is ‘very important’, a ‘remarkable achievement’, and the ‘first convincing evidence’ eggs can be 100% artificial, yet produce 100% real results.
“This is the first report of anyone being able to develop fully mature and fertilizable eggs in a laboratory setting right through from the earliest stages of egg development,” says Richard Anderson, professor of clinical reproductive science at the University of Edinburgh.
“Although we are a long way from making artificial eggs for women at the moment, this study also provides us with a basis for experimental models to explore how eggs develop from other species, including in women.
“One day this approach might be useful for women who have lost their fertility at an early age, as well as for improvements in more conventional infertility treatments.”
The Japanese research team still has variables to solve, including working around the fact human eggs take over a decade to fully develop after birth. They also noted the 11 offspring from the trial held different genetic expressions than the control animals they compared them to. Chromosomal abnormalities were documented too, though the offspring were deemed healthy.
For now, it’ll be a wait and see approach, in both the Japanese researchers solving the barriers above, and the ethical concerns which will undoubtedly be raised at some point. Especially if the technique is adapted to humans, and the looming ‘test tube babies’ come closer to reality.
The full research study can be found in the journal Nature.
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