A potential treatment to preserve fertility in female cancer patients has moved a step closer.
Researchers at the University and the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary have developed a technique to grow human immature eggs within the laboratory and develop them towards maturity.
The process could lead to immature eggs being stored and then subsequently developed, fertilised and implanted into the womb.
Chemotherapy drugs can lead to female infertility. Current treatment for women with cancer can involve removing a piece of ovary.
The ovary contains many immature eggs and can be frozen for future transplantation. However, this carries a risk of re-introducing cancerous cells into the patient.
This work represents a breakthrough in developing immature human eggs and at a faster rate than would occur in the body.
With improvement this system should be capable of producing mature eggs to be used in IVF treatment and would avoid the need for tissue transplantation.
As well as preserving the fertility of women undergoing chemotherapy, the technique could also be useful as a method of obtaining eggs for production of stem cells.
Dr Evelyn Telfer, of the School of Biological Sciences, who led the research, said:
"This is a significant step in developing immature eggs to maturity outside the body.
“Women who face infertility as a result of chemotherapy, or who want to put their biological clock on hold, could benefit from this system.
“However there is a lot more research to be carried out before this technique could be safely applied within a clinical setting."