Fertility

Think Tank

The Fertility Revolution Has Only Just Begun

Here's a short pop quiz on human biology.

True or False: A female is born with a finite number of egg cells that are released during her reproductive years. Her body does not make any more cells after she is born. 

If you took that quiz any time during the last 60 years and answered "true," you'd ace the exam. If you gave that same answer today, you'd flunk.

What's the Big Idea?

A groundbreaking new study conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School, Mass General Hospital and Saitama Medical University in Japan that was published in the March issue of Nature Medicine points to the possibility of a revolution in fertility. Biologist Jonathan Tilly, PhD, director of the Vincent Center for Reproductive Biology at Mass General's Vincent Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology first found egg-producing stem cells in mice in 2004. His most recent study identified very rare stem cells (oogonial stem cells, or OSCs) in human female ovaries that are capable of producing new eggs, or oocytes. When the OSCs were transplanted into mice they could be fertilized to form mouse embryos. 

What's the Significance?

While further study is required, and we are a long way off from applying this experimental research to help infertile couples, this study has certainly turned conventional scientific wisdom on its head. Scientists have not only been able to identify OSCs in humans but also developed a process for isolating them. In the future we might be able to grow them in a laboratory and produce an "unlimited supply of eggs" 

According to Tilly, this discovery "opens the door for development of unprecedented technologies to overcome infertility in women and perhaps even delay the timing of ovarian failure."

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan

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