Israeli scientists predict it will one day be possible to produce human eggs from the cells lining the amniotic sac, presenting new solutions for infertile couples wanting to have a baby. The researchers have discovered immature cells in the sac, which they believe could be turned into human egg cells in the laboratory.
AFULA, ISRAEL (REUTERS) - Israeli researchers say it should one day be possible to grow human eggs in a laboratory from an amniotic membrane, making possible new treatments for infertility requiring no egg donor.
The scientists grew immature versions of the cells using tissue from the sac that protects the baby in the womb. Normally, after birth the membrane and the placenta to which it is connected are discarded. But according to ProfessorEliezer Shalev, Dean at the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine of the Tecnion-Israel Institute of Technology, it's possible the membrane could become a valuable source of eggs for infertile women.
"The origin of these cells is coming from a very early stage in amniotic life...we thought that we can take these cells and try and induce them to become germ cells and then primary oocytes and at the end, mature oocytes that will be able to fertilize and luckily use the oocytes for donations," he said.
The procedure, says Professor Shalev, is simple: the amniotic membrane, is separated from the placenta after birth and the cells induced in a laboratory. In practice however, those induced cells are too immature to be fertilised - they are at the same stage as germ cells in the ovaries of girls who have no yet reached puberty.
The proteins and hormones released during menstruation are needed to switch the germ cells "on" to become viable oocytes, so Shaleb and his team are now studying methods to replicate that process in the laboratory.
If successful, the study could radically expand the options for infertile couples, allowing the manufacturing of an unlimited egg supply and removing the need for egg donors.
"People who are suffering from infertility know that there is a lack of oocytes for infertility treatment so that's the first goal which still needs a lot of work to do. The second goal is to use this kind of model for understanding the physiology of ovulation and the production of oocytes in the normal physiological events," said Shalev.
Shalev says the advantage of his technique is in that it is physiological, while "the disadvantage is that we don't have the patient's genetic material".
In existing methods, infertile women are usually reliant on eggs from a donor, which are then fertilised in a laboratory before implantation in the womb.
While, academically, the study presents significant potential for future infertility treatments, Shalev says it will take several years of research before such treatments become viable.