New Fertility Treatments Possible Based on Research on Mice

Research performed on mice has determined that their skin cells can be turned into viable eggs. The hope is that this technique can be utilized on women in order to potentially reduce the worry about their reproductive clock.

Researchers started reprogramming skin cells from fetal female mice, which makes an ordinary cell revert to a kind of blank slate.  Japanese researchers turned these blank slates into early-stage version of eggs, which they mixed with mouse ovarian cells and implanted inside the mice, as might be possible with human ovarian cells.  After four weeks passed, researchers fertilized the eggs and placed them in surrogate mother mice, resulting in three baby mice.

Doctors are not expected to use this technique on humans for some time, if at all, due to ethical and technological reasons. However, this does not mean that this research is useless.

Several experts believe that this treatment could help countless women become pregnant when they otherwise could not, either because of medical conditions, age, cancer treatments, or from long-term effects of drug use.  Although someone might have undergone treatment at one of the nation’s best drug centers, or ceased with cancer treatment, their infertility may permanent.  The various conditions that risk the ticking “biological clock” could cease to be factors.

According to scientists, such as Amanda Clark of UCLA, this research represents an enormous advance in reproductive studies. As such, Clark believes that discussions regarding regulation and policy must commence immediately.

But the mice treatment is too complex for humans.  Some researches believe that the solution could come from using adult cells instead of fetal cells. Scientists are still restricted because they need more of an understanding of how eggs are formed in the female body.

Regardless, Hank Greely, a law professor at Stanford University, holds the belief that, in two to four decades, couples might be able to use this technique to choose their baby’s characteristics through test-tube fertilization. This is due to the fact that the donation of skin cells is far simpler than harvesting eggs.

Greely believes that, at a later time, couples could produce eggs and have the embryos genetically tested. They could then choose which embryos they would want to implant based on disease risk, eye color, etc. Some doctors don’t think this would become a common practice, and others raise concern over ethical issues that arise from not only creating a designer baby, but from conducting necessary research that would make this practice possible with humans.  Tinkering with genes in a lab could mean destroying human embryos.

The possibility of applying the technique to humans would face many biological, ethical, and procedural hurdles. Clark believes that this is the time our society needs to start thinking about this form of treatment and its parameters:  “Should this be available for women who are 40 to 50 years old?  How about 50 and above?  These shouldn’t be questions for scientists to decide alone.”