Hope for Infertility Treatments: Scientists Make New Eggs from Mouse Stem Cells

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Japanese researchers have produced mouse eggs from stem cells that bred healthy offspring, a breakthrough that may one day help treat human infertility.

Researcher Mitinori Saitou and his team from Kyoto University in Japan used two different types of stem cells during their research: embryonic stem cells — a controversial technique since scientists must destroy embryos to cultivate them — and induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which are adult cells, such as skin cells, that are reprogrammed to an embryonic-like state. Producing healthy eggs from iPS cells is potentially even more exciting than using embryonic stem cells, since iPS cells sidestep the ethical issues that plague those derived from embryos and because the resulting eggs would contain the same DNA as their donors.

Stem cell experts greeted the work with praise. “They’ve gotten to what was our Holy Grail, which is making eggs,” George Daley, a leading stem-cell scientist at Harvard, told NPR. “It’s like cellular alchemy. I mean, they can turn lead into gold here. They can turn skin cells or blood cells into eggs.”

(MORE: Ovary Stem Cells Can Produce New Human Eggs, Scientists Say)

In previous efforts, scientists — including the current group — have been able to create sperm and egg cells in the lab, but they weren’t able to produce healthy offspring from those cells. In the current study, published in the journal Science, the researchers first added growth factors and proteins to the stem cells to turn them into primordial germ cells. These cells were then combined with somatic cells from mouse ovaries to make “reconstituted ovaries,” which they transplanted into the mice. Four weeks later, the scientists removed them again, isolated immature egg cells from the ovaries and allowed them to mature in a dish. The mature eggs were fertilized with mouse sperm in a test tube and the resulting embryos were transferred into female mice, leading to the birth of healthy, fertile pups that went on to reproduce themselves.

It’s not at all clear whether the procedure would work similarly in humans, but the researchers if it does, it could revolutionize treatment for infertile couples and for older women who want children. “Now is the time for society to think about this,” Amander Clark, a stem cell scientist at UCLA, told the Los Angeles Times. “If we want to use stem cells to treat women who are older, we have to decide what the parameters are. Should this be available for women who are 40 to 50 years old? How about 50 and above? These shouldn’t be questions for scientists to decide alone.”

Indeed, such an advance would lead to a thicket of ethical questions: would you allow the use of tissues from a dead person to create new life, for example?

(MORE: Scientists Restore Fertility in Mice Using Lab-Generated Sperm)

The researchers said the lab-created egg cells led to healthy pups less frequently than did natural mouse eggs, which were also fertilized and transferred to female mice in a control group. Mice impregnated with embryos created via in-vitro fertilization with natural eggs produced healthy offspring 13% of the time, compared with 3.9% for eggs created from embryonic stem cells and 1.8% for eggs made using iPS cells.

Nevertheless, the advance sheds light on how precursor cells eventually develop into sperm or egg cells, a scientific understanding that could in itself aid infertility treatments. That’s encouraging for the many women who struggle with fertility: according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10% of America women have problems getting pregnant or staying pregnant.

14 comments
malcolmscoon
malcolmscoon

Some of the comments below reflect just how much this country has become selfish. For the ninety percent of women who are fertile and can have children, they are blessed. What about the 10 percent of the women who suffer from  infertility and desperately want children, they should not be ignored. I am thrilled that science has progressed to enable childless couples with the possiblity of having children as the 90 percent. 

This is not playing God but accomplishing  God's will for us to be  "  fruitful and multiply". Even the court understands by recently making reproduction a major life activity. Additionally, a growing number of states, currently 15, requires insurance companies to cover the cost of reproduction medical services for infertile couples.


Let's stop being selfish and consider the needs of others!

almendral_eleanor@yahoo.com
almendral_eleanor@yahoo.com

I am a 15 years cancer survivor, I had an ovarian cancer before and still hoping to have a child, some doctors say that only invitro is my only chance to get pregnant, but unfortunately I could not afford it and the process of getting pregnant has a slim chance, my husband and I still praying and searching and this study had intrigued me. I just cross my fingers and do hope that this study will help couples like us.

JamieStevo
JamieStevo

I wonder how many of you who are anti the money being invested this way have ever wished to have a family or gone through the difficulties associated with not being able to for 'rare medical reasons' or for circumstances beyond a person's control.  Perhaps you are not best placed to make such a decision if it is something you have no experience or understanding of.

Ossie Sharon
Ossie Sharon

To those of you concerned about more babies in the world, keep in mind that fertility is lowest among individuals who actually have the resources to care for children and provide for advanced education. Efforts to control overpopulation via prevention of unwanted childbirth have not stopped, and likely will never stop.

bryronb
bryronb

This will give new meaning to the question: "Are you a man or a mouse?"

Gyre54
Gyre54

The last thing we need is more human beings. I think the research money is better spent elsewhere. Anywhere else.

docroc
docroc

If I were allocating money for medical research, it wouldn't be for a way to increase the birth rate.

Kristina Johnson
Kristina Johnson

Soon men or woman will have babies, we are changing the whole game...imagine a couple where the woman just cannot carry a baby, the husband will do the job and we'll have real Mr. Moms...

PS: God gave us the right to play God...

Wds Ks
Wds Ks

the world has already enough population. the need of the hour is how to tackle the existing population and not how to produce more...

JerryBallew
JerryBallew

Eureka! Just what we need, more humans to feed, house, provide cars for and more posessions to clutter up the earth. The earth is reaching capacity for sustaining 7 billion and we want to go into overload now? Hate to put the kabosh on this, but if it adds to the population boom, it is not so good news after all. Just because we can multiply excessively, should we?

CP2009
CP2009

Don't really feel this research inflates the problem of over-population.  For example, those seeking this particular technology would be infertile women who, after years of trying, remain childless completely.  Having no children or even one child per couple still reduces the population growth rate (would require 2 children per couple to keep it stagnant).

 The main issues facing over-population are countries with poor access to contraceptives and, unfortunately, poor education.

Anthony Gordon
Anthony Gordon

I don't think these studies is to create more humans. Its to understand the embryo. If we can understand that, we could prevent certain things like autism or birth defects.