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Eggs and sperm from stem cells draw closer

14 November 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 334

Human eggs and sperm derived from embryonic stem cells (ES cells) could become a reality in the next five to ten years, says Professor Harry Moore, of the UK's Sheffield University. Other scientists think it could be even sooner, according to a report in the Observer newspaper. The issues arising from 'artificial gametes' need addressing now, according to ethicist Anna Smajdor of Imperial College, London. Ms Smajdor will be speaking on this topic tomorrow at the annual conference of Progress Educational Trust, the UK's assisted reproduction and human genetics educational charity.

Earlier this year, Behrouz Aflatoonian, a member of the Sheffield University team, told the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) that human ES cells can develop into 'primordial germ cells' (PGCs) - the cells that eventually become eggs or sperm. The research built on earlier work by US scientists, who managed to derive mouse eggs from ES cells, and that of a Japanese team who produced mouse sperm in a similar way. The work suggests that mature eggs and sperm could eventually be produced in the laboratory and used to treat infertility, and could potentially allow same sex couples and post-menopausal women to have genetically-related children. Such cells could also be used in 'therapeutic cloning' research, in place of donated eggs.

According to Smajdor, the UK government has so far failed to address all the possibilities this technology opens up. 'There are no existing governmental insights or guidance as to how ethical issues related to these areas might be approached. It is something we need to address', she said. Professor Moore says that it will be 'at least five to ten years' before human eggs and sperm can be produced using ES cells. 'We can make immature sperm and egg cells in this way, but so far have not been able to turn them into mature egg and sperm', he told the Observer, adding 'we have to demonstrate the technique is safe, and that takes time'. However, US scientist Dr Peter Nagy disagrees. 'This is a dramatic idea but the basic technology is not new', he told the newspaper, adding 'I think we will be using it within two to four years'.

Professor Moore says that it would be possible to use the technology to make eggs from stem cells created from a man's skin cells, allowing gay couples to have children genetically related to both men. However, Moore says 'this is not what the technology is being developed for. It is being attempted as a way to alleviate infertility which is still a cause of considerable unhappiness for many couples'. Josephine Quintavalle, of the pro-life pressure group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said she would not support anything that paved the way for women past the menopause or gay men to have children. 'We need to have respect for nature', she said. Moore pointed to the 'huge outcry' when in vitro fertilisation was first used, and scientists were accused of playing God. But, he said 'it has brought immense happiness for parents who could not have had children otherwise'.

The Department of Health (DH) is seeking views on artificial gametes, as part of its current review of the HFE Act. The public are invited to respond formally to the DH.

Two men and their baby - how science outwits Mother Nature
The Observer |  13 November 2005
8 October 2012 - by Sarah Pritchard 
A team of Japanese researchers has created mouse eggs from stem cells and has fertilised them using IVF to produce baby mice. It is the first time scientists have reported producing properly functioning eggs using this type of stem cell....
12 July 2009 - by Dr Rebecca Robey 
UK scientists have created human sperm cells in the laboratory for the first time. The sperm, called in vitro-derived (IVD) sperm, were grown from embryonic stem (ES) cells. The researchers hope that the IVD sperm will provide a useful model for studying the development of sperm cells and the causes of male infertility....
16 April 2007 - by Katy Sinclair 
Scientists have claimed success in growing immature sperm cells from bone marrow, which they hope to employ in fertility treatments within five years. Professor Karim Nayernia, and his team from the Universities of GÅ¡ttingen and the Medical School of Hanover, took stem cell samples from the bone...
17 July 2006 - by Heidi Nicholl 
Scientists have for the first time managed to create sperm from mouse stem cells capable of fertilising eggs and resulting in live births. A team led by Professor Karim Nayernia, now Professor of Stem Cell Biology at Newcastle University, began with mouse embryonic stem cells (ES cells)which...
20 June 2005 - by BioNews 
BioNews reporting from ESHRE conference, Copenhagen: Human embryonic stem (ES) cells may be capable of growing into egg and sperm cells in the laboratory, UK scientists say. Behrouz Aflatoonian, part of a team based at the University of Sheffield, told the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction...
20 June 2005 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
It's ESHRE conference week again - thousands of fertility and embryology experts have gathered in Europe to discuss the latest research into new fertility treatments, and a host of related topics. This year, the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology is taking place in Copenhagen, Denmark...
11 December 2003 - by BioNews 
Researchers from the Children's Hospital Boston/Harvard Medical School and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Massachusetts, US, have created sperm from stem cells and used these cells to fertilise an egg. Their research, which took place in mice, was published in the 10 November online edition of the...
22 September 2003 - by BioNews 
Researchers in Japan have managed to produce mouse sperm from mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells, according to a report in this week's advanced online publications of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The research may prove valuable in the quest to understand and control male infertility. In May...
6 May 2003 - by BioNews 
US scientists have managed to grow egg cells from early mouse embryo cells, an achievement that has implications for research into stem cell therapies and infertility. The researchers, based at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, found that embryo cells grown in the laboratory could be coaxed into making eggs...
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