A recent scientific study has shown that human eggs can be grown from a very early stage of development to their fully matured stage in a laboratory.
This technique could be used to preserve the fertility of young girls diagnosed with cancer prior to undergoing cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which can leave patients infertile.
The technique involves taking a tissue sample from the ovaries and freezing it prior to the young girl’s cancer treatment. When the cancer treatment is completed and the woman is ready to have a family in later life, the immature eggs can be grown in the laboratory to their fully matured stage, ready for fertilisation with sperm. The resulting embryo(s) will then be transferred into the woman’s womb.
The Founder and Medical Director of CREATE Fertility, Professor Geeta Nargund says that this could be of real benefit ‘‘for young pre-pubertal girls who are undergoing cancer treatment that can leave girls infertile.’’
She explains that the only other option available at the moment to girls with cancer is to remove the ovarian tissue prior to cancer treatment and to re-implant it once the cancer treatment is completed. However, re-implanting the ovarian tissue at this stage can potentially carry a small risk of putting cancer cells back into the body.
This current technique differs from the new research which involves removing tissue from the ovary, growing immature eggs to their fully mature stage from the tissue sample, and fertilising the egg(s) in the laboratory. This technique would remove the potential risk of inserting cancerous cells within the tissue back into the body, as it would just be the resulting embryo(s) that would be transferred back into the woman’s womb.
The findings of the research are scientifically ground-breaking and can help with better understanding human egg maturation. Such basic science research can help with improving outcomes of fertility treatments in the future.
Professor Nargund cautions, however, that the technique is still in very early stages of development, and it needs significant further research to confirm that the eggs grown the laboratory are normal, healthy and are capable of fertilisation.
She also expresses concerns about potential epigenetic errors in the offspring due to prolonged culture of eggs in the laboratory. It has been made clear by researchers that it will be a long time before the technique is available for use in clinical practice.
Professor Nargund welcomes this research and hopes that it would be available for fertility preservation for young cancer victims in the future.
She strongly emphasises the importance of using less drugs for women during IVF treatment and avoiding unnecessary invasive techniques and manipulations on human eggs, sperm and embryos in the laboratory. She says that the aim of IVF treatment must be to ensure that the long-term health and safety of women and children are protected.