Research highlight

Human ovarian stem cells

Nature Medicine

February 27, 2012

Ovarian stem cells exist in young adult women of reproductive age and are capable of giving rise to oocytes, according to research published this week in Nature Medicine. These results may offer hope to women that have limited reproductive capacity, either because of disease or natural aging. For the past 60 years, it was believed that women are born with all the oocytes they are ever going to have. If a woman becomes infertile due to loss or aging of her eggs, it was felt that her therapeutic options were limited. However, previous studies have found that female mice are able to generate new oocytes in adulthood, but the controversy remains because of a lack of evidence that such stem cells exist in humans. Jonathan Tilly and colleagues now show that similar oogonial stem cells (OSCs) do exist in women of reproductive age. The authors find that the mouse and human OSCs are able to give rise to oocytes in vivo while also showing that the mouse OSC-derived oocytes can give rise to embryos after in vitro fertilization. For ethical and legal reasons, the team could not perform a similar test of the oocytes derived from the human OSCs they isolated. But Tilly and colleagues believe these results are the beginning steps needed for what is hoped to be a new avenue of treatment for human female infertility.

doi: 10.1038/nm.2669

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