July 13, 2009

Human egg cells grow to maturity in lab

U.S. medical scientists say they have grown immature human egg cells to near maturity in a laboratory.

The Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine researchers said their achievement marks the first time anyone has successfully grown a woman's immature egg cells, contained in a tiny sac called a follicle, to a healthy and nearly mature egg in the laboratory. When an egg is fully mature, it is ready to be fertilized.

The scientists said their research, if successful in the next steps, might eventually provide a new fertility option for women whose cancer treatments destroy their ability to reproduce.

By being able to take an immature ovarian follicle and grow it to produce a good quality egg, we're closer to that holy grail, which is to get an egg directly from ovarian tissue that can be fertilized for a cancer patient, said Teresa Woodruff, chief of fertility preservation at the Feinberg School. This represents the basic science breakthrough necessary to better accomplish our goals of fertility preservation in cancer patients in the future.

Woodruff, working with Professor Lonnie Shea and colleagues, reports the research in the July 14 issue of the journal Human Reproduction.