Earlier this year it was revealed that scientists had been able to create viable sperm in the lab from mouse skin cells. Now a team of Japanese researchers has announced that they have managed to do the same, only for egg cells. They were then able to fertilize these eggs and form embryos that were implanted into surrogates, which gave birth to healthy pups.
This is the first report of anyone being able to develop fully mature and more importantly feasible eggs in a laboratory setting. Published in Nature, the researchers describe growing the eggs from skin cells taken from an adult’s tail that were then transformed into stem cells, essentially turning back the time for the cells.
The scientists were then able to direct their development until they formed egg cells. Once they had achieved this, they were then fertilized and implanted. Close to 12 pups were born, which were then able to go on and have their own offspring, seemingly without issue.
“This study represents a major accomplishment; it is very impressive indeed,” explained Professor Azim Surani, from the Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge, and who was not involved in the study.
“The work is robust and in my view will be reproduced by other labs. Now we need additional data and observations, particularly on term embryos to see how many develop normally and what happened to those that did not. Do we anticipate or observe any developmental abnormalities?”
This is because despite producing nearly a dozen pups, the researcher originally created hundreds of embryos, it’s just not all of them turned out to be healthy or viable.
There is clearly a long way to go before the technique can be perfected, and even then, in order to get the skin stem cells to properly develop into egg cells, the researchers needed to add some tissue harvested from embryos to support the developing eggs, but it is thought that these components may soon be able to be created in the lab. Yet arguably, the biggest hurdle to still overcome is not the technical aspect, but the ethical side to the procedure.
“Ethically, this issue has yet to be discussed fully by the scientists and society,” said Professor Surani.
“This indeed is the right time to start a debate and involve the wider public in these discussions, long before and in case the procedure becomes feasible in humans. To replicate this work in human’s poses further challenges, and it is futile to speculate when this will become possible.”
If the same results could be achieved in humans, which it is important to stress is a long way off, then it would revolutionize fertility treatment. It will, however, require some very serious discussions and guidelines to be drawn up, something which will have to be done over the next few years.