COPENHAGEN, Denmark, June 20 (UPI) -- British scientists say they have shown embryonic stem cells can develop into the earliest stages of human sperm and eggs.
The findings may one day help IVF treatment, hit by a shortage of sperm and egg donors. In principle, stem cells could be cloned from infertile patients and turned into the required sperm and eggs for IVF.
Sheffield University researchers presented the work to the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference in Copenhagen Sunday.
The team used stem cells taken from embryos donated for research by couples undergoing IVF.
They found some formed into a collection of cells called embryoid bodies.
Within two weeks some had developed the genetic signature of primordial germ cells, the ancestors of eggs and sperm.
Some also expressed proteins only found in maturing sperm.
Professor Harry Moore, head of the Sheffield research center, said it could ultimately be possible to produce sperm and eggs for use in assisted conception treatments.
British Fertility Society Secretary Dr. Allan Pacey called the research an "exciting step forward" that could one day help infertile patients.