Magnification of a lab-grown fully matured human egg
An undated picture shows a magnification of a lab-grown fully matured human egg ready for fertilization.Doctor David Albertini/University of Edinburgh/Handout via REUTERS

Chemotherapy along with other cancer treatments affects fertility in young women. But human eggs grown in labs by scientists from the US and the UK are holding out hope for women with fertility issues, primarily young cancer patients.

A study published last week in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction describes how the researchers developed eggs in ovarian tissue from an early stage to a mature stage.

David Albertini, a co-author of the study and director of the Division of Laboratories at the Center for Human Reproduction in New York, said the team's success in developing the eggs to their maturity is a "technological breakthrough" and might help understand how the ovary works and how infertility issues can be treated.

The team states that this technique can help young cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy as chemo drugs affect a developing fetus and often lead to birth defects. If an egg damaged by cancer drugs is fertilized, there is a high probability of the miscarriage of the embryo or development of a baby with genetic problems.

The team's new approach can also benefit women whose fertility has been affected by radiation therapy. 

cancer cells
Cancer cells- Representational ImageCreative Commons

"This is a research triumph that opens new doors for us to understand how a human egg develops," Albertini said. He believes that after 10 years, the procedure can be applied clinically.

Albertini said the eggs grown by his team in the lab showed many abnormalities. The abnormalities and limitations, according to him, can help the scientists refine the technology to improve the quality of the eggs. 

The study was conducted by using tissue samples from the ovaries of 10 women who were to undergo C-section. The women belonged to the same age range and were at the final term of their pregnancy. The 48 early stage eggs were separated from the follicles of the ovarian tissue. At the lab, nine out of them successfully underwent the finals stages of development, the study says.

Dr. Ali Abbara, a senior clinical lecturer in endocrinology at Imperial College London and a member of the Society for Endocrinology, called the research "exciting" and "promising" and told that the technology needs to be developed more to make sure that the technique is safe.