UCLA researchers from the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research led by Dr. Amander Clark have developed the first biological resource that maps critical stages of human egg and sperm cell development during fetal life.  The resulting map has important implications for future research of infertility, such as for cancer survivors left unable to create eggs or sperm due to chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Another important result of this research is a better understanding of the cellular origins of testicular cancer, which is believed to begin in males during fetal life.

Using this biological resource, Clark and colleagues’ mapped the stage of egg and sperm development with differentiation from human pluripotent stem cells (cells that can become any tissue in the body).  The group found that sperm and egg cells differentiated from stem cells were younger in age than previously anticipated, at less than 6 developmental weeks.  This means they will need to find a way to bring the young cells into a more mature state.  This was unknown before the resource was developed.  The study is published online ahead of press in Nature Cell Biology.

“Understanding the biological identity and developmental stage of cells we differentiate in the lab from stem cells is essential to identifying and overcoming bottlenecks in directing stem cells to become specific tissues,” said Clark, associate professor of molecular cell and developmental biology and a member of the stem cell research center. “In the future, with appropriate oversight, this technology may have the potential to help cancer patients whose eggs are destroyed at a young age by radiation and chemotherapy.”

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