For many years now there has been a general consensus that women have a limited amount of eggs they can produce within their lifetime. A new study headed by Jonathon Tilly from the Massachusetts General Hospital has challenged this long held belief.
The research examined both humans and mice. They found that oogonial stem cells (OSCc), which are present throughout a female’s adult life until menopause, can generate oocytes. This was true for both humans and mice. Oocytes are immature ova which in turn become eggs. For ethical reasons the study had limitations on the involvement of the humans. The research on the mice however had less rigorous ethical considerations. As a consequence, the researchers were able to fertilise the mice oocytes and produce embryos. If the human oocytes are able to respond the same as the mice, then we too may be capable of producing an embryo using the same method.
Professor Peter Illingworth from IVF Australia said the practical application of this research will be a ‘long way a way”. He also pointed out individual differences need to be considered as women lose eggs at differing rates. Consequently, women should not rely on this development in their future plans to start a family. Professor Mark Bowman, who is President of the FSA said, this technique has the potential to help woman who suffer from infertility due to illnesses. For example, cancer patients who need their eggs removed preceding chemotherapy. He does not consider this knew knowledge to be of any benefit for older women who are hoping to conceive.