Stem cell find offers hope for infertility

Stem cell find offers hope for infertility

Monday, February 27, 2012

An experiment that produced human eggs from stem cells could one day be a boon for women who are desperate to have a baby, according to a study published yesterday.

The work sweeps away the belief that a woman has only a limited stock of eggs and replaces it with the theory that the supply is continuously replenished from precursor cells in the ovary, its authors said.

If the report is confirmed, harnessing those stem cells might one day lead to better treatments for women left infertile because of disease — or simply because they’re getting older.

"Our current views of ovarian aging are incomplete. There’s much more to the story than simply the trickling away of a fixed pool of eggs," said lead researcher Jonathan Tilly of Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital, who had long hunted these cells in a series of studies.

His previous work drew fierce scepticism. Independent experts urged caution about the latest findings.

A key next step is to see whether other laboratories can verify the work. If so, then it would take years of additional research to learn how to use the cells, said Teresa Woodruff, fertility preservation chief at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

Still, even a leading critic said such research may help dispel some of the enduring mystery surrounding how human eggs were born and matured.

"This is going to spark renewed interest, and more than anything else it’s giving us some new directions to work in," David Albertini, director of the University of Kansas’ Center for Reproductive Sciences said.

Scientists have long taught that all female mammals are born with a finite supply of egg cells, called ooctyes, that runs out in middle age.

Tilly first challenged that notion in 2004, reporting the ovaries of adult mice harbour some egg-producing stem cells.

He collaborated with scientists in Japan, who were freezing ovaries donated by healthy 20-somethings. Tilly also had to address a criticism: How to tell if he was finding true stem cells or just very immature eggs.

His team latched onto a protein believed to sit on the surface of only those purported stem cells and fished them out. To track what happened next, they inserted a gene that makes some jellyfish glow green into those cells. If the cells made eggs, those would glow, too. "Bang, it worked — cells popped right out," said Tilly.

a d v e r t i s e m e n t


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Stem cell find offers hope for infertility

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