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Human reproduction rewritten?

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Could lab-grown egg cells revolutionize fertility treatments and stem the menopause?

Researchers from Edinburgh University, UK, in collaboration with a team from Harvard Medical School, are attempting to successfully produce mature human eggs sourced from stem cells.

Isolated from human ovarian tissue, the first eggs grown entirely in a laboratory setting could be fertilized this year if authorities give their approval.

The Independent reports that the teams are planning to request the required licences to continue with the experiments from UK fertility and research watchdogs, and have already approached the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) with plans to submit an application this month.

Evelyn Telfer, a reproductive biologist at Edinburgh University, said:

"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.

Could the fertilisation take place this year? Yes, absolutely."

A series of tests have been designed to try and generate an 'unlimited' supply of human eggs. The teams hope that their research will be able to 'revolutionize' fertility treatment in the future -- potentially allowing infertile women to have children.

Not only this, but the tests may lead to reversal of the menopause in women. If they do not suffer from age-related disease (such as osteoporosis or heart disease), then it may be the case that women's fertility can be extended; allowing their ovaries to be 'replenished' in later stages of life.

Some scientists reportedly see the experiments as a possible future 'elixir of youth' for women -- taking them back to pre-menopausal days when they may have enjoyed better standards of health.

It has only been possible to harvest a small number of mature human egg cells until now -- as eggs had to be taken directly from a woman's ovaries after she had been stimulated with hormone treatments. Due to this, there has been a severe shortage of human eggs available for both IVF treatment and scientific research.

The Edinburgh and Harvard teams want to be able to fertilize these laboratory cells with human sperm in order to prove that it is a viable option to produce mature eggs for these purposes.

Any embryos resulting from the tests can be legally studied for a maximum of 14 days before destruction. None of the test embryos will be transplanted into a woman's womb as they are deemed experimental.

(via The Independent)

Image credit: Gabi Menashe

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure