U.S., Chinese and Japanese scientists have discovered a way to prompt immature eggs in mice to develop into mature eggs, a method that could eventually be used to help infertile women, according to a paper recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the New York Times reports.

An accidental finding by other researchers -- that removing a certain gene in mice stimulated all of the animals' immature eggs to mature -- provided the "impetus for the discovery" in the recent study, according to the Times. Researchers from Stanford University and colleagues used a similar process to get immature mouse eggs to develop for their study. They inhibited an enzyme called PTEN and added a protein fragment to help spur immature egg cells to develop into mature eggs that can be fertilized.

The researchers then fertilized the mature eggs, allowed them to develop into mice and proved that those offspring were fertile later in life. The scientists also successfully applied their method to human eggs, although they did not fertilize them. A Japanese scientist now plans to use the technique to mature women's primordial follicles and eventually fertilize the eggs.

The findings could have implications for treating infertility in perimenopausal women who do not produce mature eggs or women who have cancer treatments that cause ovarian failure, according to the Times. Scientists also hope to use the method to generate embryonic stem cells, which often are difficult to obtain because of a lack of available mature human eggs. For example, one scientist said he intends to develop immature eggs from ovary tissue removed from women for other reasons, then prompt the eggs to mature (Kolata, New York Times, 8/9).

Reprinted with kind permission from nationalpartnership. You can view the entire Daily Women's Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery here. The Daily Women's Health Policy Report is a free service of the National Partnership for Women & Families.

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