According to data from the World Health Organization, 15% of couples of reproductive age worldwide suffer from infertility.
Currently, this condition is treated with hormonal stimulation, intrauterine insemination, in vitro fertilization and gametes donation. However, most of these options are based on the assumption that both partners already produce functional gametes.
Recently, some scientists have identified in several mammals – including humans – stem cells called oogonial stem cells, i.e. a type of adult stem cells capable of producing oocytes, which could treat infertility in the future.
«The use of stem cells can provide for their differentiation in the laboratory into oocytes, allowing a completely in vitro gametogenesis», explains Francesca Klinger of the Biomedicine and Prevention Department of the University of Rome Tor Vergata, Histology Section.
Stem cells have the unique property of restoring, regenerating or replacing specialized cells in the body that are physiologically consumed or damaged. Thanks to their particular characteristics of self–renewal and differentiation, stem cells have been used in the treatment of many diseases and pathological conditions – especially of the blood and immune system – for over 30 years.
Now new perspectives could also open up in the treatment of infertility, as already demonstrated by the first results obtained in 2011 by a group of Japanese researchers at Kyoto University. They were able to replicate in the laboratory the first step of gametogenesis in mice, starting from induced pluripotent stem cells and then obtaining oocytes that, undergoing IVF, produced healthy puppies.
«The prospect of generating oocytes from stem cells could guarantee patients facing a path of fertility preservation or assisted reproduction greater independence and freedom of choice, which is often severely limited by time», continues Dr. Klinger. Thus confirming that autologous stem cell transplantation is a field that is also largely developing in the field of reproduction, whose ultimate goal is to improve the success rates of medially assisted procreation and to provide a chance even for couples whose gametes are not functional (due to genetic causes, radio or chemotherapy treatments, immunosuppressive drugs).
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