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Back To Vidyya Using Mice To Incubate Human Eggs

Odd Procedure Offers Hope To Women Who Are Infertile After Medical Intervention

Within a year, mice will be used to incubate the eggs of women who risk losing ovarian function from medical treatment. A Canadian team has successfully harvested human eggs that have been brought to maturity on the back muscles of genetically altered mice.

Ariel Revel of the Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto leads the team developing the technology. The team is excited as the technology "offers new hope" to young women who become infertile after vital medical intervention, such as cancer treatment.

There is sure to be an ethical and biological outcry over the procedure. No one really knows what happens when you mix human and animal tissue.

Many hospitals already freeze mature eggs from female patients; but freezing is difficult and can damage mature eggs. Other treatments, such as attempts to transplant ovarian tissue back into patients have so far failed. In cancer patients, malignant cells might also be reintroduced in the transplant process.

But now the Canadian researchers say they have successfully produced three viable, mature eggs from tissue grafted onto mice. The graft contained immature oocytes that had previously been frozen and stored. They think it should now be possible to take ovarian tissue from a girl undergoing treatment for leukemia, and freeze the tissue until she is ready to have a family.

The procedure works when researchers take the frozen tissue containing immature eggs and thaw them. They then graft the tissue onto the back muscles of the mice that can't reject human tissue because they have been genetically engineered to have weakened immune systems. The eggs will mature in the mouse for about nine weeks before being harvested. Then the eggs will undergo further maturation in vitro and be fertilized in a test tube. The fertilized eggs will then be implanted in the mother's womb.

The next stage of the research will be to check that the mature eggs are normal. Researchers are paying particular attention to the number and structure of the eggs' chromosomes, though he says, "There's no chance that mouse DNA could be mixed up with the human cells."

IVF experts say that people are bound to worry--even though the prospect of saving immature ovum is very exciting. From a clinical viewpoint there are bound to be some safety concerns. Clearly people are worried when you mix human and animal tissue.

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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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