Stem cells in the ovary which continue to create immature eggs
Significant Scientific discovery: Stem cells in the ovary which continue to create immature eggs throughout adulthood could offer hope in the future for women whose ovaries have been damaged by chemotherapy or those in early menopause.
Melbourne IVF's Medical Director Dr Lyndon Hale comments on recent ground breaking news from Prof Jonathan Tilly, Massachusetts General Hospital Research team.
“We have long believed a woman was born with all the eggs she would have,” said Dr Hale. “This research is scientifically significant, isolating egg-producing stem cells from the ovaries of reproductive age women is a fundamental breakthrough and changes the way we think about the ovaries and eggs.
“But any practical application of this research will be a "long way away,” said Dr Hale. “It offers hope in the future particularly for women whose ovaries have been damaged by chemotherapy or those who have undergone abnormally early menopause,” he said.
Dr Hale said many women lose eggs quicker than others, so women of today should not rely on this technique to help them have babies for many years to come.
“Scientifically this is very exciting however like many things in the stem cell world it will take many years to come fruition.
Reference Excerpt from Massachusetts General Hospital Media release 26 Feb 2012: Mass.
General researchers isolate egg-producing stem cells from adult human ovaries Findings support continued egg-cell production throughout reproductive life For the first time, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers have isolated egg-producing stem cells from the ovaries of reproductive age women and shown these cells can produce what appear to be normal egg cells or oocytes. In the March issue of Nature Medicine, the team from the Vincent Center for Reproductive Biology at MGH reports the latest follow-up study to their now-landmark 2004 Nature paper that first suggested female mammals continue producing egg cells into adulthood.
"The primary objective of the current study was to prove that oocyte-producing stem cells do in fact exist in the ovaries of women during reproductive life, which we feel this study demonstrates very clearly," says Jonathan Tilly, PhD, director of the Vincent Center for Reproductive Biology in the MGH Vincent Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, who led the study.
"The discovery of oocyte precursor cells in adult human ovaries, coupled with the fact that these cells share the same characteristic features of their mouse counterparts that produce fully functional eggs, opens the door for development of unprecedented technologies to overcome infertility in women and perhaps even delay the timing of ovarian failure."
To examine the functional capabilities of the cells isolated with their new protocol, the investigators injected green fluorescent protein (GFP)-labeled mouse OSCs into the ovaries of normal adult mice. Several months later, examination of the recipient mouse ovaries revealed follicles containing oocytes with and without the marker protein. GFP-labeled and unlabeled oocytes also were found in cell clusters flushed from the animals' oviducts after induced ovulation. The GFP-labeled mouse eggs retrieved from the oviducts were successfully fertilized in vitro and produced embryos that progressed to the hatching blastocyst stage, a sign of normal developmental potential.
Additionally, although the Chinese team had transplanted OSCs into ovaries of mice previously treated with chemotherapy, the MGH-Vincent team showed that it was not necessary to damage the recipient mouse ovaries with toxic drugs before introducing OSCs. In their last two experiments, which Tilly considers to be the most groundbreaking, the MGH-Vincent team used their new cell-sorting techniques to isolate potential OSCs from adult human ovaries. The cells obtained shared all of the genetic and growth properties of the equivalent cells isolated from adult mouse ovaries, and like mouse OSCs, were able to spontaneously form cells with characteristic features of oocytes. Not only did these oocytes formed in culture dishes have the physical appearance and gene expression patterns of oocytes seen in human ovaries – as was the case in parallel mouse experiments – but some of these in-vitro-formed cells had only half of the genetic material normally found in all other cells of the body. That observation indicates that these oocytes had progressed through meiosis, a cell-division process unique to the formation of mature eggs and sperm.
The researchers next injected GFP-labeled human OSCs into biopsied human ovarian tissue that was then grafted beneath the skin of immune-system-deficient mice. Examination of the human tissue grafts 7 to 14 days later revealed immature human follicles with GFP-negative oocytes, probably present in the human tissue before OSC injection and grafting, as well as numerous immature human follicles with GFP-positive oocytes that would have originated from the injected human OSCs.
"These experiments provide pivotal proof-of-concept that human OSCs reintroduced into adult human ovarian tissue performed their expected function of generating new oocytes that become enclosed by host cells to form new follicles," says Tilly, a professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School and chief of Research at the MGH Vincent Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
"These outcomes are exactly what we see if we perform the same experiments using GFP-expressing mouse OSCs, and GFP-expressing mouse oocytes formed that way go on to develop into fully functional eggs. In this paper we provide the three key pieces of evidence requested by those who have been skeptical of our previous work," he adds. "We developed and extensively validated a cell-sorting protocol to reliably purify OSCs from adult mammalian ovaries, proving once again that these very special cells exist. We tested the function of mouse oocytes produced by these OSCs and showed that they can be fertilized to produce healthy embryos. And we identified and characterized an equivalent population of oocyte-producing stem cells isolated from adult human ovaries."
Among the many potential clinical applications for these findings that Tilly's team is currently exploring are the establishment of human OSC banks – since these cells, unlike human oocytes, can be frozen and thawed without damage – the identification of hormones and factors that accelerate the formation of oocytes from human OSCs, the development of mature human oocytes from OSCs for in vitro fertilization, and other approaches to improve the outcomes of IVF and other infertility treatments