Defying half a century of conventional wisdom, scientists have discovered that female mammals can produce new eggs after birth. Until now it had always been thought that females were born with a limited number of eggs which are depleted with age.
But research on mice at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston has shown that new follicles, the tiny sacs in which eggs grow, are being created well into adult life from stem cells. "These are basic biological findings that may change everything in our field" says Dr Jonathan Tilly. "Although there is no way to say how long it may take for these finding to actually affect the care of patients, we are very excited."
Now that the egg stem cells have been identified, it may be possible to delay the ageing of the ovaries and to extend female fertility and delay menopause. Eggs could also be created with therapeutic cloning. However, this development has yet to be confirmed in humans and a leading figure in reproductive biology, Professor Roger Gosden, is sceptical. "If we have been wrong, I will be astounded," he told the Telegraph.
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