One of the most vexing problems in human reproduction has been the accepted fact that women are born with every egg that they are ever going to have. As women age, the number of viable eggs goes down until she is no longer able to conceive her own biological child. A new study [u1] has questioned this current position by actually creating new eggs from stem cells.
Stem cells are the special cells within the body that have not been assigned a specific identity. As a result, they can become kidney cells or skin cells or muscle cells. But until now, there has not been confirmation that they can become the special cells that are necessary to support reproduction (eggs or sperm). This new study has changed that perspective.
It is important to point out that this is the first report and therefore the technique needs to be repeated and verified before we can be certain of this new breakthrough. It is also noteworthy that this study involved a process where women were having their ovaries removed as part of gender re-assignment surgery. The ovaries were then processed in the lab in order to derive the cells that reportedly produced a limited number of eggs. It is therefore possible that even if this study is confirmed that it will only apply to young women and that the technique would require that they lose an ovary in order to create these eggs. Since it is older women that typically need to generate new eggs, we aren’t yet certain that this new breakthrough will ever be of practical value to women most in need of these results. Nonetheless, each step toward overcoming a potential barrier to reproduction is cause for celebration—even if we simply develop new information that assists us in understanding other aspects of reproduction.