Stem cell treatment may allow women to delay menopause

Working life of ovaries can be prolonged, experiments on mice demonstrate

Women may one day be able to delay the menopause, following a study showing that it is possible to prolong the working life of ovaries by transplanting female stem cells that develop into mature eggs.

The findings also raise the prospect of treating some forms of female infertility where the ovaries do not produce eggs. The hope is that one day stem cell transplants could replenish the supply of fresh eggs in infertile women.

Until recently the accepted dogma in reproductive biology was that all female mammals are born with a finite lifetime store of about 2 million egg-producing follicles. In humans, this number has already fallen to about 400,000 by puberty, and at the menopause too few eggs remain to permit fertility.

But four years ago US scientists showed it was possible to obtain stem cells from the ovaries of adult women and grow them into mature egg cells.

Now scientists in China have shown that it is possible to isolate stem cells from both immature and mature ovaries of mice, store the cells in the laboratory, and then transplant them back into sterile females to enable them to give birth to healthy offspring.

Research by Professor Ji Wu and colleagues at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University, published in the journal Nature Cell Biology, overturned the accepted wisdom by finding that it is possible to separate special cells in mice ovaries that seem to function as stem cells for the female germ-line cells – the eggs.

These female germ-line stem cells have the potential to divide indefinitely, so under correct experimental circumstances they can be grown in large numbers in the laboratory, stored for months or years and transplanted.

The scientists isolated female germ-line stem cells of newborn mice and adult females. They cultured them for up to 15 months and six months respectively before transplanting them into the ovaries of sterile mice, which gave birth to healthy offspring.

Professor Azim Surani, of the Gurdon Institute at Cambridge University, said the results of the study have important implications for women who do not produce mature eggs. "Sperm are produced continuously in men but the number of eggs in women is fixed at birth," he said. "This study ... suggests there are also stem cells present in ovaries that can be cultured in a dish, which can develop into viable eggs."

It might be possible to isolate these stem cells from a woman earlier in life so that she could have children later.

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, of the Medical Research Council's National Institute for Medical Research, said that if the results are confirmed, "it could provide a means to restore fertility to women who have few eggs or who have had to undergo cancer treatments, by isolating these cells, expanding their numbers ... and keeping them frozen until needed for IVF".

But he added the study in Nature Cell Biology has failed to answer important questions. "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence ... to me this is a very incomplete piece of work..." he said. "This [study] will stimulate lots of activity in the scientific community. But what would be unfortunate is if this is hyped as a cure for female infertility."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £38,000

    £22000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role is a mixture of office...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Hosting Support Agent

    £17100 - £20900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

    Recruitment Genius: Experienced Health & Safety Support Tutor

    £19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Legal Assistant

    £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

    Day In a Page

    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
    Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

    Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

    Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests