PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University are studying how to turn a person’s skin cell into an egg that has the potential to produce viable embryos. 

OHSU said the technique could eventually provide a new avenue for child bearing among couples who cannot produce viable eggs of their own. Scientists have already demonstrated the method on mice and say it shows promise. 

However, there are still significant challenges that need to be resolved before clinical trials begin. One obstacle is the fact that the law currently forbids the Food and Drug Administration from providing oversight for clinical trials involving genetic modification of human embryos.

Dr. Shoukhrat Mitalipov, director of the OHSU Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy said clinical trials are still probably a decade away. 

“The science behind it is complex, but we think we’re on the right path,” he said. 

Dr. Paula Amato, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at OHSU, said this technique has the potential to provide enormous benefit to families struggling to have children. 

“Age-related decline in fertility remains an intractable problem in our field, especially as women are delaying childbearing,” she said. 

The technique would allow families to have genetically related children and could help people who are unable to produce viable eggs because of age or other causes, such as previous treatment for cancer. It would also raise the possibility for men in same-sex relationships to have children who are genetically related to both parents. 

“The skin cell can come from somebody who doesn’t have any eggs themselves,” Amato said. “The biggest implication is for female, age-related infertility. It can also come from women with premature ovarian insufficiency due to cancer treatment or genetic conditions, or from men who would be able to produce a genetically related child with a male partner.” 

OHSU said this type of research is not funded by the National Institutes of Health, so it depends on philanthropic support. Open Philanthropy awarded $4 million over three years to the OHSU Foundation to support the research. 

Researchers plan to build on a study in mice that was published in January 2022 in the journal Communications Biology. The study demonstrated that it is possible to produce normal eggs by transplanting skin-cell nuclei into donor eggs from which the nuclei have been removed. 

In the mouse study, OHSU and collaborating scientists cut the donor DNA in half and then fertilized the resulting egg with sperm to generate a viable embryo with chromosomes from both parents.