Creating eggs from stem cells opens huge window onto mysteries of fertility

This morning’s news cycle has been filled with stories about the work of a Japanese team that created eggs from both embryonic mouse stem cells and mouse reprogrammed stem cells, iPS cells made from skin. My favorite headline came from the BBC “Skin Cells become Grandparents,” noting that the eggs were fertile producing offspring who were also fertile. But perhaps the most informative is in the Nature News blog here, covering the paper their rival Science published online yesterday.

Most of the coverage has raised many good issues about the work. They are rightfully noting it is going to be hard to translate this mouse work into humans, when we do it opens up new options for fertility treatment, but before then society needs to address some pretty big ethical and regulatory questions.

CIRM grantee Amander Clark from UCLA is quoted in the widely used Associated Press article making these points:

I think it’s a pretty large advance in the next generation of reproductive technologies for women. (Discussion about policy and regulation) needs to begin now.

But it is the Nature piece that addressed why the scientific community is so excited by this work. Many of the fundamentals of fertility, in particular how eggs and sperm mature are some of the biggest mysteries in biology. How do eggs and sperm end up with one copy of each chromosome instead of two like all our other cells? How do so many genes in eggs get silenced so that the eggs can remain dormant until it is their turn for ovulation?

Understanding how this happens in humans, not just mice, could open up significant new options for women. Another CIRM grantee, Stanford’s Renee Reijo Pera is quoted in the LA Times about the potential to allow women in their 30s and 40s to turn back their biological clock:

This is a get-them-back strategy.

CIRM funds Dr. Reijo Pera to study egg development. A colleague blogged about her work here and you can watch a video of her discussing it here.

D.G.

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