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New fertility technique to help women have own genetic baby from donor egg

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A major advance in a fertility treatment technique may one day help some women using donated eggs to have a baby that would carry nearly all her own genes instead of those of the donor.

A combined team of French, Spanish and Italian fertility experts report today (Thursday 27 April) in the journal Human Reproduction* that they have developed a novel method of membrane fusion which would allow the nucleus from the egg of an infertile women to be successfully transferred into the cytoplasm of a donor egg from which the nucleus had been removed. As the nucleus carries most of the genes, transferring it to an enucleated donor egg means that the infertile woman would give birth to a baby who would be almost entirely genetically her own as well as her partner's.

The technique could help those women whose embryos have repeatedly failed to develop because of defects in the extranuclear material of their own eggs (the cytoplasm). Although cytoplasmic defects account for less than ten per cent of women attending IVF clinics, these women can currently only be treated by egg donation.

Cell fusion techniques, used mostly for cloning mammalian eggs, involve electrofusion and are not suitable for human eggs because the eggs are almost always activated by the process.

In the experiments reported today on human eggs, the researchers have successfully transferred nuclei by two methods -- one using a chemical, the other using a deceptively simple mechanical technique.

In the chemical method, the nucleus of one egg was 'glued' to another egg from which the nucleus had been removed using an organic chemical, phytohaemagglutinin. Then the pair of eggs were induced to fuse by treating them with another organic chemical, polyethylene glycol (PEG).

In the mechanical method, the 'glued' eggs were induced to fuse by exquisitely delicate micromanipulation with the type of micropipette used in ICSI (the fertility technique whereby a single sperm is introduced into an egg).

Head of the research team Jan Tesarik PhD MD, from Laboratoire d'Eylau in Paris, said: "Both methods yielded a high proportion of fused cells without causing any activation of the eggs. We believe that this is the first time the mechanical technique has ever been tried and we were surprised and encouraged how successful it was. The use of phytohaemagglutin first was a major factor in the success of this method."

Dr Tesarik said that no attempts were made to fertilize the reconstructed eggs because the formation of human embryos for research purposes was banned in France and Spain and strictly regulated in Italy.

"We are now ready to try and develop treatment for women with repeated failures of embryo development caused by defective cytoplasm in their eggs. Compared to standard egg donation this approach will enable a nearly full genetic contribution (with the exception of 37 female extranuclear genes) from both parents to the future embryo.

The researchers believe that their 'clean' method of using the cytoplasm of the donated egg and transferring the patient's nucleus overcomes potential problems that could arise from accidental mixing of important extranuclear genes (mitochondrial DNA) from patient and donor.

"Because ICSI will probably be the best way of fertilising the reconstructed eggs the mechanical method we've developed will have the advantage of simultaneously fusing the eggs and introducing the sperm in a single, relatively simple action," said Dr Tesarik. "We are currently testing the efficiency of this technique in the laboratory but it could be some considerable time before we are ready to offer the service to couples."

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*Chemically and mechanically induced membrane fusion: non-activating methods for nuclear transfer in mature human ooctyes. Jan Tesarik et al. Human Reproduction. Vol 15. No 5. pp 1149-1154.

Research teams involved: Laboratoire d'Eylau, Paris, France; MAR&Gen Molecular Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, Granada, Spain; CIVTE Centre of Insemination In Vitro and Embryo Transfer, Seville, Spain: Centre for Reproductive Medicine, European Hospital, Rome, Italy; Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Granada Faculty of Sciences, Granada, Spain.

Notes:
1. Full strictly embargoed text of the paper can be found from 09.00 BST Monday 24 April on website: http://www3.oup.co.uk/eshre/press-release/may.pdf
2 Human Reproduction is a monthly journal of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. Please acknowledge Human Reproduction as a source.
3 Printed text available on request from Dr Helen Beard, deputy editor. Tel: +44 (0) 1954 212404 or email: gb54@dial.pipex.com

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