Engineering Eggs for IVF

Ovaries are the female reproductive organs that produce eggs that can be fertilized for pregnancy as well as secrete hormones important to bone and cardiovascular health. Several conditions can lead to loss of ovarian tissue and its functions, including premature ovarian failure. In addition, certain types of cancer that require the use of chemotherapy and radiation can injure the ovaries. These conditions can prevent women from having children and can disrupt the proper hormonal balance.

Research Significance

If successful, this project to engineer eggs in the laboratory could benefit women whose ovaries no longer produce eggs—because of age or treatments for cancer—but who want to become pregnant.

Research Approach and Goals

The goal of this project is to use a woman’s own ovarian cells to grow eggs in the laboratory that can be used in in vitro fertilization procedures. The first step is to identify immature cells in the ovaries that give rise to mature eggs. Scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) are currently looking for cell markers that would make it possible to identify and isolate these cells. Next, scientists would work to induce these cells to develop in the laboratory into mature eggs.

Research Highlights and Innovation

The research is a vital and innovative step towards using a patient’s own ovarian cells to grow eggs that can help women become pregnant.