Women have unlimited number of eggs

Scientists are out to disprove years of medical research and the commonly held belief that women are born with all the eggs they will ever carry in a lifetime.

Image: Thinkstock

Scientists are out to disprove years of medical research and the commonly held belief that women are born with all the eggs they will ever carry in a lifetime.

Researchers at the Vincent Center for Reproductive Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital in the US have managed to isolate stem cells existing in the tissues of human ovaries that appear to have the ability to produce eggs.

These new findings which were published in the journal Nature Medicine this week could change the entire approach to in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment.

Study researcher and director of the Vincent Center, Dr Johnathan Tilly , said women would no longer need to endure hormone injections to extract eggs, but that the process could be conducted extraneously from the body.

"That whole program of IVF… becomes a non-necessity," Dr Tilly said.

By targeting a protein found on the surface of the stem cells, Dr Tilly and his team of researchers were able to grow the isolated cells in dishes, producing stem cells with similar properties to human eggs.

The stem cells were then placed into human ovarian tissue and grafted into mice to see whether they could produce eggs. After one to two weeks, researchers say they saw positive results that confirmed egg cells had formed in the mice.

There remain a number of issues that plague the research, including whether the egg cells can be fertilised to produce human children, and currently laws in the US prohibit the fertilisation of human eggs for scientific research.

Other medical and science professionals have also raised concerns about the limitations of the paper in addressing whether the cells appearing in mice, have a role in adult humans.

"I would like to see better characterisation of this very small pool of cells that may be present in the ovary," said Dr Marco Conti, professor and director of the Center for Reproductive Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco.

"There is no real functional evidence that this pool of cells indeed contributes to [egg formation] in the adult," said Dr Conti.

But the preliminary findings are encouraging for women, considering scientists have already isolate stem cells that can produce sperm throughout a man's life.

Dr Tilly also noted that unlike human eggs, the stem cells can be frozen without causing damage to them, meaning it may be possible to store them for use in future.

12:0PM, Feb 28th 2012

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