Could eggs made from blood cells bring an end to infertility?
Could eggs made from blood cells bring an end to infertility? Scientists are closer than ever – but ethics expert worries it could be ‘the biggest moral challenge we’ve ever faced’
- Scientists at a number of labs throughout the world are trying to make sex cells (sperm and eggs) from other tissues
- In Japan, one research team has successfully bred mice born of eggs made from a mouse’s skin cells
- The latest development was a Kyoto University study in which researches made early stage human egg cells from human blood cells
- These revelations could mean a single person could have their own genetic children, as could infertile gay and straight couples
- This would fundamentally change the idea of ‘what it means to be a parent’ and the development of the technology raises ethical quandaries, expert worries
How skin cells were first turned to sperm
Viagra, penicillin, X-rays, insulin: Some of our greatest medical discoveries were accidents.
And some day, we might remember the technology that allows anyone to have children – potentially even with themselves – may share that legacy.
Much of the origin story of sex cells and embryo development is still a mystery to us and, in 2011, another scientist, Dr Katsuhiko Hayashi decided he wanted to solve the sperm portion of equation.
Scientists had recently discovered that they could effectively turn back the developmental clock on adult cells until the cells became stem cells, the undifferentiated foundation of all of the body’s tissues.
Dr Hayashi figured he could use these cells to create sex cells, too, and that by observing that carefully controlled process he would learn how sperm comes to be.
Dr Mitinori Saitou has turned human blood cells into human egg cells, a discovery that edges humanity closer to redefining reproduction
These sound like the investigations of someone who was trying to solve the problem of infertility.
From what he told Medium, Dr Saitou isn’t actually particularly interested in the issue – but he ended up making a discovery that could alter the way we reproduce forever.
Dr Hayashi was effectively trying to manufacture sperm out of skin.
And he did, successfully.
Next, he and his lab decided to make the other half of the unique combination required to make an embryo: the much more complicated female sex cell, the egg.
Sperm is the smallest cell type in the human body, and is little more than a vehicle for genetic information. Eggs, on the other hand, are the largest and equipped to sustain the development of embryos.
They are also more precious, in a way, than sperm. Women are born with only about 300,000 eggs and few have any viable ones left after age 42. Every time a fertile man ejaculates, he may release as many as 300 million sperm cells, and his testes will continue to produce more until his death
In 2016, Dr Hayashi and Dr Saitou published incredible findings. Not only had the pair and their team successfully made fully-fledged mouse egg cells from mouse skin in petri dishes, they fertilized the egg cells and used IVF to transplant them into a living mouse
Though only a small percentage of the embryos were viable, the mouse gave birth to eight live offspring, and only ate a moderate snack of two of her own babies, as is apparently a common practice among mice.
Dr Saitou and Dr Hayashi parted ways, and Dr Saitou began tinkering with human cells.