UK Scientists: Embryonic Stem Cells Can Turn Into Human Eggs, Sperm

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 20, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

UK Scientists: Embryonic Stem Cells Can Turn Into Human Eggs, Sperm Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 20, 2005

London, England ( — Scientists in the UK say that human embryonic stem cells can develop in the laboratory into the early forms of cells that eventually become eggs or sperm. They say their work allows eggs and sperm to be grown from stem cells and used in assisted reproduction, human cloning, and the creation of more stem cells.

Harry Moore, a professor of reproductive and developmental medicine at University of Sheffield, says the research raises the possibility that one day eggs and sperm could be grown in a petrii dish rather than be needed from donors.

Moore said the cloning technique, called cell nuclear replacement, involves removing the genetic material from an egg and replacing it with genetic material from another cell. Instead of being fertilized by sperm, the new egg is given chemical nutrients and electrocuted to force it into dividing.

The egg them becomes a human embryo and it is killed to obtain its stem cells.

For infertile couples, this would possible mean eliminating the need for egg or sperm donations. For pro-life advocates, the new research is troubling because human life is destroyed in the process.

The research is still a long way from becoming something of everyday use.

"We would need to prove that sperm or eggs produced in this way were safe before we could contemplate using them to treat patients,” Moore said.

The use of donated eggs for human cloning or embryonic stem cell research purposes has been a source of contention.

Kelly Hollowell, Ph.D., a molecular and cellular pharmacologist and a patent attorney, says a problem with embryonic stem cell research is that it requires harvesting so many cells and the process requires women’s eggs to create human embryos.

"To treat, for example, the 17 million diabetes patients in the United States will require a minimum of 850 million to 1.7 billion human eggs," Hollowell said. "Collecting 10 eggs per donor will require a minimum of 85 to 170 million women."

"The total cost would be astronomical, at $100,000 to $200,000 for 50 to 100 human eggs per each patient," Dr. Hollowell explained.

She explained at a Heritage Foundation conference that the process of obtaining eggs puts women at risk.

"Superovulation regimens for fertility treatments would be used to obtain women’s eggs," Hollowell explained. "The risks associated with superovulation regimens or high-dose hormone therapies are debated."

She said women who engage in the process can be subjected to a "spectrum of problems including memory loss, seizure, stroke, infertility, cancer, and even death."

Other experts touched on the bioethical concerns involved in this new process.

Anna Smajdor, a medical ethicist at Imperial College in London, told the Associated Press, "These possibilities raise new questions about how we define parenthood and about how we decide who has access to these new technologies."

The findings were announced at the start of the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.