OHSU scientist studies how to turn a skin cell into an egg

Scientists say they have already done promising tests in mice

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University are studying how to turn a person’s skin cell into an egg that can produce viable embryos.

OHSU said the technique could eventually provide a new avenue for childbearing in couples who cannot produce viable eggs on their own. Scientists have already demonstrated the method in mice and say it shows promise.

However, there are still significant challenges to resolve before clinical trials begin. One hurdle is the fact that the law currently prohibits the Food and Drug Administration from overseeing clinical trials involving the genetic modification of human embryos.

Dr Shoukhrat Mitalipov, director of the OHSU Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy said clinical trials are still probably a decade away.

“The science behind it is complex, but we think we’re on the right track,” he said.

Dr. Paula Amato, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at OHSU, said the technique has the potential to bring huge benefits to families struggling to have children.

“Age-related fertility decline remains an intractable problem in our field, especially as women delay childbearing,” she said.

The technique would allow families to have genetically related children and could help people who are unable to produce viable eggs due to age or other causes, such as previous cancer treatment. It would also increase the possibility for men in same-sex relationships to have children genetically related to both parents.

“The skin cell can be from someone who doesn’t have eggs themselves,” Amato said. “The biggest implication is for age-related female infertility. It can also arise from women with premature ovarian failure due to cancer treatment or genetic conditions, or from men who are thought to be able to produce a genetically related child with a male partner.

OHSU said this type of research is not funded by the National Institutes of Health, so it depends on philanthropic support. Open Philanthropy has awarded $4 million over three years to the OHSU Foundation to support research.

The researchers plan to build on a study in mice published in January 2022 in the journal Communications Biology. The study demonstrated that it is possible to produce normal eggs by transplanting skin cell nuclei into donor eggs from which the nuclei have been removed.

In the mouse study, OHSU and collaborating scientists cut the donor’s DNA in half, then fertilized the resulting egg with sperm to generate a viable embryo with chromosomes from both parents.

Denise W. Whigham