Human Primordial Germ Cells to Pave the Way in Fertility Treatments

ADVANCES in treatments for fertility problems and age-related diseases are set to take place following a new breakthrough by researchers. A team of scientists from the UK and Israel have successfully used human embryonic stem cells (SCs) and adult human skin cells to make primordial germ cells (PGCs) – precursors to egg and sperm.

“The creation of PGCs is one of the earliest events during early mammalian development,” said Dr Naoko Irie, Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. “It is a stage we have managed to recreate using SCs from mice and rats, but until now few researchers have done this systematically using human SCs.”

The study may now enable us to increase our understanding of infertility, the human germline, and germ cell tumours through analysing patient-specific cells. Additionally, further knowledge of how environmental factors that may affect gene activity, such as smoking or diet, can be inherited by offspring is likely to be gained.

Commenting on the findings, lead researcher Prof Azim Surani, Director of Germline and Epigenomics Research, Gurdon Institute said: “Germ cells are ‘immortal’ in the sense that they provide an enduring link between all generations, carrying genetic information from one generation to the next. The comprehensive erasure of epigenetic information ensures that most, if not all, epigenetic mutations are erased, which promotes ‘rejuvenation’ of the lineage and allows it to give rise to endless generations. These mechanisms are of wider interest toward understanding age-related diseases, which in part might be due to cumulative epigenetic mutations.”

The research has also cast doubt upon the validity of similar studies that involve the use of mice cells, due to the major differences in embryo development between mice and humans; this could change the way future studies are carried out. Overall, the findings should pave the way for new treatments for fertility and sufferers of age-related diseases.

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