Exclusive

Scientists rewrite rules of human reproduction

Exclusive: Lab-grown egg cells could revolutionise fertility - and even banish menopause

The first human egg cells that have been grown entirely in the laboratory from stem cells could be fertilised later this year in a development that will revolutionise fertility treatment and might even lead to a reversal of the menopause in older women.

Scientists are about to request a licence from the UK fertility watchdog to fertilise the eggs as part of a series of tests to generate an unlimited supply of human eggs, a breakthrough that could help infertile women to have babies as well as making women as fertile in later life as men.

Producing human eggs from stem cells would also open up the possibility of replenishing the ovaries of older women so that they do not suffer the age-related health problems associated with the menopause, from osteoporosis to heart disease.

Some scientists are even suggesting the possibility of producing an “elixir of youth” for women, where the menopause is eradicated and older women will retain the health they enjoyed when younger.

Researchers at Edinburgh University are working with a team from Harvard Medical School in Boston to be the first in the world to produce mature human eggs from stem cells isolated from human ovarian tissue.

Until now, it has only been possible to isolate a relatively small number of mature human egg cells directly from the ovaries of women who have been stimulated with hormones. This technical limitation has led to an acute shortage of human eggs, or “oocycts”, for IVF treatment as well as scientific research.

The scientists want to fertilise the laboratory-grown egg cells with human sperm to prove that they are viable. Any resulting embryos will be studied for up to 14 days - the legal limit - to see if they are normal.

These early embryos will not be transplanted into a woman's womb because they will be deemed experimental material, but will either be frozen or allowed to perish.

Evelyn Telfer, a reproductive biologist at Edinburgh University, has already informally approached the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) with a view to submitting a formal licence application within the next few weeks.

“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,” Dr Telfer said.

“Could the fertilisation take place this year? Yes, absolutely,” she said.

Professor Richard Anderson of the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, who  will be in charge of the clinical aspects of the work, said: “The aim will be to demonstrate that the eggs that we’ve generated in vitro are competent to form embryos and that’s the best test that an egg is an egg,”

Generating an unlimited supply of human eggs and the prospect of reversing the menopause was made possible by a series of breakthroughs led by Professor Jonathan Tilly of Harvard.

In 2004 he astounded the world of reproductive biology by suggesting that there were active stem cells in the ovaries of mice that seemed capable of replenishing eggs throughout life.

For half a century, a dogma of reproductive biology was that women are born with their full complement of egg cells which they gradually lose through life until they run out when they reach the menopause.

“This age-old belief that females are given a fixed 'bank account' of eggs at birth is incorrect,” Professor Tilly said.

“In fact ovaries in adulthood are probably more closely matched to testes in adulthood in their capacity to make new germ cells, which are the special cells that give rise to sperm and eggs,“ he said.

”Over the past 50 years, all the basic science, all the clinical work and all the clinical outcome was predicated on one simple belief, that is the oocyte pool, the early egg-cell pool in the ovaries was a fixed entity, and once those eggs were used up they cannot be renewed, replenished or replaced,“ he added.

Last month, Professor Tilly published pioneering research showing that these stem cells exist in human ovaries and that they could be stimulated in the laboratory to grow into immature egg cells.

He is collaborating with Dr Telfer, who was once sceptical of his research, because in Edinburgh she has pioneered a technique for growing immature eggs cells to the fully ”ripened“ stage when they can be fertilised.

”It's been fun to work with her because she's been one of the most vocal critics of this work years ago and it's great that she's come about and changed her views,“ Professor Tilly said.

”I think personally [fertilising the first eggs] is do-able. I see no hurdles why it cannot be done this year,“ he added.

Dr Telfer added: “The important thing is that if you can show you can get ovarian stem cells from human ovary you then have the potential to do more for fertility preservation.

“We have all the local ethical approval in place and we’re now looking at the process of the HFEA application. There is a push for us to do it now,” she added.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Environment
The plant ‘Nepenthes zygon’ was donated to Kew in 2004
environment
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

    Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

    Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

    £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

    Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

    £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital