LONDON, February 23: In a new study, researchers led by an Indian-origin scientist, have shown that stem cells from the skin of two adults of the same sex can be used to make human egg and sperm cells.
Scientists at Cambridge University collaborated with Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science and used stem cell lines from embryos as well as from the skin of five different adults. Researchers have previously created live baby mice using engineered eggs and sperm, but until now have struggled to create a human version of these ‘primordial germ’ or stem cells.
Ten different donor sources have been used so far and new germ-cell lines have been created from all of them, researchers said.
The team has compared the engineered germ cells with natural human stem cells taken from aborted human foetuses to check that the artificially created versions of the cells had identical characteristics, The Times reported. A gene called SOX17, previously considered to be unimportant in mice, has turned out to be critical in the process of ‘reprogramming’ human cells, researchers said.
“We have succeeded in the first and most important step of this process, which is to show we can make these very early human stem cells in a dish,” said Azim Surani, professor of physiology and reproduction at Cambridge, who heads the project.
“We have also discovered that one of the things that happens in these germ cells is that epigenetic mutations, the cell mistakes that occur with age, are wiped out,” said Surani, who was involved in research that led to the birth of Louise Brown, the world’s first test-tube baby, in 1978.
Jacob Hanna, the specialist leading the project’s Israeli arm, said it may be possible to use the technique to create a baby in just two years.
“It has already caused interest from gay groups because of the possibility of making egg and sperm cells from parents of the same sex,” he said. The details of the technique were published in the journal Cell.