Human eggs fully grown in lab for first time

Human eggs have been fully grown in a laboratory setting for the first time, potentially paving the way for new fertility treatments.

The eggs were removed from ovary tissue as early as possible and grown in a laboratory up until the point they were ready for fertilisation, according to research published in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction.

If the eggs were healthy it could allow women who were undergoing medical treatments that damage their eggs, such as chemotherapy, to store and save them for future fertilisation.

However, scientists have cast doubts on whether the study proved that the eggs were fully grown in good health.

Lead researcher Professor Evelyn Telfer, of the University of Edinburgh’s school of biological sciences, said: “Being able to fully develop human eggs in the lab could widen the scope of available fertility treatments.

“We are now working on optimising the conditions that support egg development in this way and studying how healthy they are. We also hope to find out, subject to regulatory approval, whether they can be fertilised.”

Close-up of human eggs during development stages. Pic: Prof Telfer & Dr McLaughlin

Image: Human eggs during development stages. Pic: Prof Evelyn Telfer and Dr Marie McLaughlin

However, not all onlookers agree that the research is so promising.

Professor Simon Fishel of the CARE Fertility Group said: “The press release is perhaps more encouraging than the science or the authors promulgate.

“As has been seen in many attempts to develop human gametes in vitro over the years, what looks normal may not indeed be what we call ‘developmentally competent’, or indeed healthy.”

Professor Daniel Brison, the scientific director of the Department of Reproductive Medicine at University of Manchester, said that it was “an exciting breakthrough”.

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Schematic image of human egg development in laboratory. Step one: very small, immature human eggs within ovarian tissue are placed in culture in the lab, and begin to develop Step two: after initial development, eggs have grown and are more than double their initial size. The ovarian follicles that contain the eggs are separated before further growth and monitoring Step three: eggs and their surrounding cells are removed from liquid culture to undergo further development in a nutrient-rich membr

Image: Schematic image of human egg development in the lab

He added: “As the authors acknowledge, there is much more important research still to do, but this could pave the way for fertility preservation in women and girls with a wider variety of cancers than is possible using existing methods.”

The study, carried out by the Royal Infirmary Edinburgh, the Centre for Human Reproduction in New York and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, was supported by the Medical Research Council.