Professor Azim Surani, University of Cambridge
Dr Jacob (Yaqub) Hanna, Weizmann Institute of Science
Dr Hanna and Professor Surani's project has brought infertility treatment a step closer by achieving the first and most difficult step towards generating lab-grown human eggs and sperm from patient cells. Male and female infertility is becoming increasingly common in western society. Young female cancer survivors also face infertility from irradiation and chemotherapy regimens that damage the ovaries. One area that may offer new approaches to fertility treatment is stem cell research. This field has progressed rapidly, making it possible to convert adult skin cells back into stem cells that can subsequently be directed to specialise into all other cell types in the body. These stem cells, called induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSCs), are genetically identical to the donor patient, which makes them ideal for patient-specific replacement therapy.
In this project, the Hanna and Surani groups developed new technologies to turn human iPSCs into precursor cells (called PGCs) that will go on to form female oocytes or male sperm in the petri dish – the first time this has been achieved. Remarkably, the groups went on to demonstrate that the mouse equivalent of PCGs retained the ability to complete specialisation toward mature oocytes once injected into host mouse ovaries. This work may revolutionise treatments for infertility by opening new research and therapeutic avenues for stem cell-based treatments of human infertility.
The most notable publication from the collaboration, a joint paper in the prestigious journal Cell in 2015, received major scientific and media coverage internationally and was featured in a special issue 'Best of Cell 2015'. Both investigators also presented this collaborative work at many leading international conferences. In addition, a provisional patent has been filed on generating PGCs from human cells. The successful combination of expertise in making human iPSCs (Hanna lab) and mouse PGCs (Surani lab) will be developed in future work, for which the investigators hope to secure new funding. This work will explore the molecular processes that generate authentic human PGCs from iPSCs.