From Skin to Egg: IVG’s Potential to Transform Fertility Treatment

From Skin to Egg: IVG’s Potential to Transform Fertility Treatment

Over 10 million children have been born through assisted reproductive technologies globally, since the first IVF baby in 1978. IVF has helped millions become parents and changed the course of fertility care. Now, new research from Oregon Health & Science University describes the science behind in vitro gametogenesis (IVG), a new technique that could potentially transform fertility treatment once again.

IVG is still in its early stages of development, and there are still many unkowns on its safety and efficacy. This overview is intended for general information purposes only.  

Producing eggs for patients who don’t have their own

Senior author Shoukhrat Mitalipov, Ph. D., director of the OHSU Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy explains that the goal of IVG is to “produce eggs for patients who don’t have their own eggs”. This new advanced technique turns a skin cell into an egg capable of producing viable embryos, potentially revolutionizing fertility treatment for women of advanced maternal age, those who are unable to produce viable eggs due to previous cancer treatment or other causes, and men in a same sex relationship. The technique removes the need to rely on donor eggs, even raising the possibility for men in a same sex relationship to both be genetically related to the child.

How IVG works

OHSU researchers documented the technique in a mouse model. This method differs from existing approaches that rely on turning skin cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) before differentiating them into sperm or egg cells. OHSU’s approach focuses on a method based on somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), a technique famously used to clone Dolly the sheep. In this technique, the nucleus of a mouse skin cell is transplanted into a donated mouse egg without a nucleus.

The key step lies in cytoplasm in the donor egg, the jelly-like substance that fills the cell. Cytoplasm prompts the implanted skin cell nucleus to discard half of its chromosomes, mimicking a natural process called meiosis (when cells divide to produce mature sperm or egg cells). The resulting egg now has a single set of chromosomes, just like a normal egg cell.

This egg is then fertilized with sperm through in vitro fertilization. This creates a diploid embryo with a complete set of chromosomes, one half from the sperm and one half from the egg derived from the skin cell. This is significant because it allows for embryos with genetic contributions from both parents, unlike Dolly who was a clone.

The OHSU process skips cell reprogramming, a technique that other labs around the world are exploring. As Paula Amato, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the OHSU School of Medicine, explains, the technique avoids the long culture time it takes to reprogram the cell, and the “harmful genetic and epigenetic changes [that] can happen” over several months.

The researchers are now studying the technique in human eggs and early embryos but it will be a while until it is ready for clinical use. Additional studies are needed to understand how chromosomes pair and divide correctly using this method to ensure it faithfully replicates natural reproduction.

The future of fertility treatment?

IVG is a very new technology with the potential to transform fertility treatment. However, it is important to note that the technique is still in the early stages of development and there are many unknowns. As with any new and experimental technology, there may be risks associated with IVG that are yet to be discovered.

The overview of IVG provided in this article is for general industry education only and should not be taken as medical advice or as promotional material. MES Ltd. does not endorse or recommend any specific fertility treatments.

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