Artificial Eggs From Skin Cells – Remarkable Breakthrough By Japanese Scientists Using Skin Cells From Mouse

11-week-old mice created using eggs grown from stem cells CREDIT: DR. KATSUHIKO HAYASHI

According to Japanese scientists they have successfully created healthy mice eggs entirely in the lab with the help of skin cells of mouse. The pups from these eggs were apparently healthy and capable of going on to reproduce themselves.

Nature journal reports that the findings present future hope for artificial eggs for humans needing fertility treatment. However, significantly more studies would be needed before the present success can be applied to humans, according to the scientists.

In the past, scientists have made sperm within the lab but that was using a stem cell from immature embryonic field which has the ability to morph into different cell types.  Taking a mature stem cell and converting it to an egg has more challenges, according to experts.

Prof. Katsuhiko Hayashi along with his colleagues drew cells from the tail of a mouse and reprogrammed these adult cells back to the immature state.  Subsequently they coaxed the immature cells to form into an egg. However, all the eggs the scientists made in the lab were viable or healthy, though the healthy eggs could be fertilized with a sperm in the dish. When the fertilized eggs were transplanted into the womb of female adult mice, apparently healthy pups were delivered.

Experts have also warned that several barriers would need to be crossed before using this method for humans. While some of these barriers are technical in nature, the others arguably relate to ethics and safety. Another associated fear expressed is that any flaws in the artificial egg could transition to future generations.  The technique presently employed by Japanese researchers still needs harvesting tissue from the embryos for supporting the artificial egg while they matured in the laboratory dishes.

At the University of Edinburgh, Prof. Richard Anderson, from MRC Centre for reproductive health that a careful analysis of the study report reveals the complexities of the process and how it could be several years before it can be optimized. However, he expressed hope that the present findings may become useful one day, for women experiencing fertility issues early in their lives and also to usher in improvements to conventional fertility treatments.

Prof. Azim Surani who has also been studying turning human skin cells to the precursors of eggs and sperm also stated that application of the present findings in humans can consume significantly more time, research and effort.  He added that the ethics behind this need be discussed fully by the society and scientists before determining if the process is suitable for humans.