Lab-grown egg cells could be fertilised 'within the year' if licence is granted
Progress Educational Trust17 April 2012
The first human egg cells grown in the laboratory from stem cells could be fertilised later this year, scientists report.
Researchers are now intending to seek permission from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to fertilise the eggs in order to test whether they are viable. Should such a study be successful, it would represent a breakthrough in fertility research and could open the door to greatly enhanced fertility for many women.
'We hope to apply for a research license to do the fertilisation of the in vitro-grown oocytes within the IVF unit at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary', said Dr Evelyn Telfer, reproductive biologist at the University of Edinburgh.
The new technique, developed by researchers from Edinburgh University and Harvard Medical School in the USA grows human egg cells using stem cells from donated, frozen ovaries.
Should an HFEA licence be granted and the research go ahead, any fertilised eggs would not be transplanted into the womb, but studied for the legal limit of 14 days before being frozen or allowed to die.
Dr Telfer said that the study could take place later this year. Discussing the research, she said: 'If you can show you can get ovarian stem cells from the human ovary you then have the potential to do more for fertility preservation'.
However, some scientists are sceptical of the claims made in the original paper claiming human egg cells had been derived from ovarian stem cells. Writing in BioNews last month, Dr Robin Lovell-Badge, head of stem cell biology and developmental genetics at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research in London said that even if that study was accurate, 'the authors are a long way from testing the safety and efficiency' of the technique.
Dr Lovell-Badge added that even though research to test these parameters 'is possible with a licence, it would require a change in primary legislation to permit their use for reproductive purposes, which in itself would take several years'.
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.