In a landmark development, scientists have been able to replicate the process where egg cells mature in the ovaries outside of the body. Using strips of ovarian tissue removed in a biopsy, it represents an advance on IVF (in vitro fertilisation), where a mature egg is fused with a sperm in the lab and the fertilised embryo is implanted. Under the new process, in vitro maturation (IVM), the maturation of eggs takes place in the lab, raising the prospect of new hope for women who lose their fertility.
The study’s senior author, Professor Evelyn Telfer of the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh, told The Independent: “If we can show these eggs are normal and can form embryos, then there are many applications for future treatments.”
Young girls, in particular, have very few options for preserving their fertility before chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Currently the ovarian tissue is stored in the hope that this could be transplanted back when they’re in remission to restore some fertility.
While the eggs in the study are at the final stage of maturation, it is not known whether they could form a healthy embryo. Prof Telfer said they have a significant ethical and regulatory process ahead before they can attempt fertilisation.
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