A team of scientists have created mouse eggs from stem cells and used them to create baby mice. Is this taking science a step to far? Or is this a huge breakthrough in the field of fertility research?
The experiment started with either embryonic stem cells (found in early stage embryos) or induced pluripotent stem cells (cells taken from adults and modified to develop similar properties of embryonic stem cells) taken from mice. These cells were grown under conditions, which support their growth into oocytes (egg cells) and then transplanted into mice and allowed to develop into mice embryos.
However, the number of healthy offspring was low – only 3.9% of transplanted embryos survived. This may seem very low, but even the control embryos (normal mouse eggs) had a low survival rate of 17.3%. It clearly shows there is still a long way to go before this research comes to fruition.
The implications of this research, if clinically translated to humans, is that women who are infertile will be able to have children who are genetically related to them by using their own stem cells to create eggs. Although this is a plausible idea, the reality is still far away. There are also shorter-term implications of this research, which can be used to study fertility and understand the development of eggs.
This is a fascinating (almost mind-boggling) research concept, which sparked a debate on the issues surrounding ‘frankinstein’ science. Are we playing with nature too much? Would the research money be better spent elsewhere? Or are we taking the same reaction we took when IVF was first announced? I think at these early stages the research is certainly thought provoking and highlights the potential use of stem cells. The day this becomes a reality we will no doubt have different ideas and thoughts on what we should/shouldn’t be doing with nature.