Egg-Producing Stem Cells Found in Human Ovaries
Study Suggests Women May Be Able to Make More Eggs as They Age
A Lot of Potential continued...
“What we’ve previously believed is that you don’t get new eggs formed during your adult life. This discovery shows that there’s the potential for them to be formed, no question about that,” Telfer says, “but it doesn’t actually show that they’re being formed under normal conditions.”
Indeed, she notes, experience would suggest otherwise. Women, after all, do lose their fertility as they age.
“There are cells there that under certain conditions have the potential to form [eggs]. That’s the really exciting part of this work. And of course they can be used. There’s a practical application,” she says.
Telfer has pioneered a technique that allows her to take immature human eggs and turn them into mature, fertilizable eggs outside the body. She has already partnered with Tilly to try to take his “seed” eggs to the next stage of development. With special government permission, she says, they may even be able to try to experimentally fertilize the eggs.
“It’s actually opening up a whole new field of research, to define these cells, to characterize these cells, and to use them in a practical way,” she says.
Tilly says that by using egg-generating stem cells to make large numbers of viable eggs, doctors might one day be able to cut the expense of in vitro fertilization (IVF), since women would no longer have to go through multiple cycles of treatment to harvest enough eggs to generate a pregnancy.
‘True Emancipation of Women’
“If Dr. Tilly can reverse the biologic clock or halt it, and start making eggs from stem cells, it’s fantastic,” says Avner Hershlag, MD, chief of the Center for Human Reproduction at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y.
“This is the true reproductive emancipation of women,” he tells WebMD. “You will be free to a) not compromise on who you share your life and share your kids with, and b) like any man, you will have the freedom to develop a full professional life and not have to stop everything because you are having children.”
But Hershlag notes that such an advance might still be years away.
For women who are worried they’ll run out of time to have children, Hershlag says there is technology available that helps women buy more time to have a baby. “Her best bet is actually, right now, to freeze her eggs if she wants to delay reproduction.”