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
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
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

    Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

    £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

    Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

    £23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

    Day In a Page

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...