Is using stem cells to grow new eggs an effective alternative method of fertility treatment for infertile couples?

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Is using stem cells to grow new eggs an effective alternative method of fertility treatment for infertile couples?

Rebecca Jones


Infertility rates are set to rise, currently one in seven couples are struggling to conceive within 12 months and this is predicted to rise to one in three in the future [1]. Infertility affects about 10% of all women (Figure 2) and can appear in one of the many forms. The most common forms are hormonal and are linked to ovulation; not ovulating regularly or at all. A common example of hormonal-dependent infertility is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a hormone imbalance interfering with normal ovulation, which reduces fertility.

In situations where ovulation can be encouraged by hormones, like PCOS then there is a moderate chance of women will still be able to conceive naturally (45% to 50%.) [9]. However, not all women are able to encourage ovulation with hormones, these people have a few options: in vitro fertilisation (IVF), surrogacy, sperm and egg donation. Of these, IVF is the most common method used to solve infertility, but success rates are low (Table 1) in comparison to the chances of getting pregnant naturally when fertile (Figure 2) People who are unable to produce the necessary reproductive cells but still want to carry their own children are pushed toward using sperm and egg donation. Unfortunately this means the child will not biologically belong to one or both of the parents.

Currently, a new method is being developed to try and give couples (who don’t have the necessary reproductive cells) the ability to produce a child that is genetically theirs using stem cells. Stem cell technology has the potential to offer an alternative to established methods of infertility treatment by growing new reproductive cells from the patient’s own tissues.   This technology therefore offers couples in which one or both partners are sterile the ability to have child which is genetically their own. Also this may offer higher success rates than methods such as IVF as the egg will biologically belong to the mother it reduces the chances of rejection from the maternal immune system [3].

Table 1: IVF Success Rates with non-donor eggs (2007)


Infertility rates in comparison to naturally conceiving

Main Solution

Using recent breakthroughs in stem cell technology there is now the possibility to grow infertile couples either sperm or ova in a laboratory.

Stem cells are a specialist form of cell, which can become any of the cells in the body.  When they divide, stem cells split into two different daughter cells.  One of these is a progenitor cell which can go on to become another body cell (such as a blood cell) and the other is a new stem cell.  In this way the stem cell is self-renewing and keeps on producing new body cells (Fig. 3).  The ability of stem cells to become any other cell means that in they are currently used in stem cell therapies but a lot of stem cell therapies are currently just promising research. However, stem cells are currently used in treatment for leukemia, indicating that using stem cells as a solution to serious problems is a viable soloution. In the future they could be used to grow new organs for humans, including reproductive cells.

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Figure 3[9]

Applied Biology

Stem cells are very rare and must be collected from skin or blood taken from a human donor.  Currently the most common way of making stem cells is to reprogram stem cell taken from skin to make induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). Induced pluripotent stem cells are adult stem cells that have been reprogrammed to give the function of an embryonic stem cell by being forced to express the genes and factors vital for maintaining the defining properties of the embryonic stem cell (6).  A plug of skin ...

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