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Researchers are one step closer to creating in vitro fertilization (IVF) eggs using skin cells.
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Researchers are one step closer to creating in vitro fertilization (IVF) eggs using skin cells.

Researchers have made progress in producing IVF eggs from a person’s skin cells by modifying the process used to create Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be cloned over 20 years ago.

This discovery suggests that women of older age may have the opportunity to have children with inherited genetic material, and possibly overcome fertility challenges due to egg damage from illness or cancer treatment.

The complex process, which may require ten years to refine and clear for use in humans, would allow male couples to have biologically connected children. This is possible because the DNA from both men could be used in the fertilized egg and then carried to delivery by a surrogate mother.

If this technology were to be successfully implemented in a clinical setting, it could potentially cause a major shift in IVF and bring new hope to infertile individuals who have lost the ability to produce gametes due to disease, aging, or cancer treatments. According to Aleksei Mikhalchenko, the study’s primary author from Oregon Health and Science University, gametes refer to sperm and egg cells.

“This research study was authored by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, who noted that his team has dedicated two decades to developing solutions for fertility issues faced by individuals without viable sperm or eggs. The current options for these individuals often involve using donated reproductive materials, resulting in children without genetic ties to them. Mitalipov believes that their technology could offer a way for infertile patients to have children who are genetically related to them, filling a gap that is not currently possible even with in vitro fertilization.”

Researchers globally are exploring various methods to generate eggs and sperm in laboratory settings. In the previous year, a group of Japanese scientists successfully produced eggs using skin cells from male mice, resulting in the birth of mouse offspring with two fathers. Other groups are striving to develop sperm and eggs from embryonic stem cells, which have the ability to develop into any type of tissue in the body.

Although numerous countries, such as the United Kingdom, prohibit the utilization of artificial sperm and eggs for assisting infertile couples, the progression of developments in the future may lead to demands for the procedures to be allowed if they are considered to be both reliable and efficient.

The most recent trials, published in Science Advances, were conducted on mice and utilized a unique, faster method for producing IVF eggs. The scientists began with a donor egg and eliminated its nucleus. They then replaced it with a nucleus from a skin cell of a mouse. Afterward, the egg was cultured to naturally eliminate half of its chromosomes. This vital step guarantees that the egg has the appropriate number of chromosomes – half from each parent – when it is fertilized by a sperm. Mikhalchenko stated, “Using our approach, eggs can be created within a mere two to three hours.”

Dolly, the famous sheep, was produced in 1996 using a technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). Prof Ian Wilmut and his team at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh removed the nucleus from a mammary gland cell of a Finn Dorset ewe and combined it with an egg, resulting in an embryo with identical DNA to the ewe.

In 2022, Mitalipov and his team proclaimed the arrival of three live mice as a result of their experiments, although the percentage of success was below 1%. Their most recent research centers on the mechanism of the egg discarding half of its chromosomes, a crucial step for the development of a viable embryo. According to Mitalipov, their main goal now is to improve the success rate at every stage of the process.

Paula Amato, a faculty member in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology and one of the authors of the research, pointed out that the team’s method has an advantage in that it eliminates the lengthy culture times typical of other cell reprogramming methods. According to Amato, over the course of several months, harmful genetic and epigenetic changes can occur.

Mikhalchenko stated that while it may take approximately ten years for the technology to be used in clinical settings, it will need to be carefully examined for safety, effectiveness, and ethical considerations. However, its potential for addressing fertility concerns shows promising possibilities for the advancement of reproductive medicine in the future.

Source: theguardian.com