By NICK CHILES
A new scientific breakthrough could be wonderful news for future couples going through the trials of infertility: scientists have discovered that human ovaries contain stem cells that they may be able to use to produce an “unlimited” supply of eggs.
While the scientific community has always believed that women produced a limited supply of eggs in their lifetimes—leading many women to opt to freeze their eggs for future use—this discovery by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital could rewrite the entire infertility and in vitro fertilization process.
Because the issue of stem cells in this country is still embroiled in political, moral and legal battles, scientists were barred from using the egg cells to grow an actual embryo. So instead they used mice—they located the same stem cells in the ovaries of the mice, fertilized them and produced embryos, according to the study published in the Nature Medicine journal.
While experts predict that we are still years from this procedure being used on women, the results are incredibly exciting. It even has some potential benefits for women with cancer.
The Mass General researchers located egg-producing stem cells in the ovaries of women of reproductive age and grew immature eggs, which are called “oocytes.” When a female is still in the fetus stage, her still-developing body contains an estimated seven million oocytes. By the time that female baby is born, the number of oocytes has dropped to about one million. When the girl hits puberty, her oocytes have dropped 300,000. By menopause, she has none left.
In the future, couples dealing with infertility issues may have an unlimited number of eggs that can be fertilized to facilitate a successful pregnancy. That’s exciting news, indeed.
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