Stem Cell Research Could Allow Women Post-Menopause Babies

A long-held belief about women and fertility is that each woman has a set amount of eggs in her lifetime and that when those eggs are depleted at menopause, so are her chances at having a biological child. However, research out of Massachusetts General Hospital is questioning that view. Using stem cells taken from human ovaries, scientists have produced early-stage eggs, which brings up all sorts of questions about possible new methods for treating infertility. Nicholas Wade, writing in The New York Times, adds, "The ability to isolate stem cells from which eggs could be cultivated would help not only with fertility but also with biologists' understanding of how drugs and nutrition affect the egg cells."

Jonathan Tilly, the director of Mass General's Vincent Center for Reproductive Biology and leader of the new research, had reported in 2004 that ovarian stem cells in mice could create new eggs "similar to how stem cells in male testes produce sperm throughout a man's life." His new study attempted to prove this with humans. Researchers took healthy ovaries from patients having sex reassignment surgery, and injected stem cells from the ovaries into human ovarian tissue grafted under the skin of mice: "Within two weeks, early stage human follicles with oocytes had formed." Ryan Flinn writes in Bloomberg Businessweek that this could potentially point at "new ways to aid fertility by delaying when the ovaries stop functioning."

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