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Human embryonic stem cells have the potential to develop into eggs and sperm in the laboratory

ery tiny proportion of cells in the embryoid bodies began to express some of the genes that are found in human primordial germ cells. Some cells also expressed proteins only found in maturing sperm. This suggests that HESCs may have the ability to develop into PGCs and early gametes as has been shown previously for mouse embryonic stem cells."

However, Mr Aflatoonian stressed that there was still a lot of work to be done before the promise of these early results could be translated into reality. "Embryoid bodies can differentiate into all sorts of tissue types, so we need to choose the cells that are going to develop into PGCs and then work out how we can encourage them to grow into gametes.

"Producing functional gametes is much more difficult, because we have to recreate for the cultured cells the environment of the developing follicle for egg development or the tissue of the testis for sperm. We want to test whether HESCs can differentiate to cells that produce the hormones for sperm and egg development and isolate these as well. What is extraordinary is that the embryoid bodies seem to produce spontaneously the tissue and environment conducive for sperm and egg development in quite a short time in culture."

Speaking before the conference, Prof Moore said: "One of the reasons for doing this research is that it may allow us to investigate the very earliest processes of how a human gamete and gonad (ovary and testis) develops. Many scientists believe that environmental chemical pollutants that mimic the action of hormones (so called endocrine disrupting chemicals) might interfere with human development at this stage and cause congenital abnormalities, infertility and possibly cancer (in particular testicular cancer). By developing suitable tests with embryonic stem cells as they differentiate to germ cells we can investigate the action of these chemicals in the laboratory.

"Ultimately it might be possible to produce sperm and eggs for
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Source:European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology


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