CommonHealth: New Research Addresses Female Fertility 27:36

This article is more than 9 years old.

A new paper published in the journal Nature Medicine is challenging long held assumptions about female fertility.

For more than 50 years, it has been widely believed that woman are born with all the eggs they are ever going to have. Now, one research team at Massachusetts General Hospital says they've found a way to take human stem cells from ovarian tissue and produce early-stage eggs.

The research could point to a new way of either reversing infertility or delaying the day when ovaries stop functioning.

The research was led by Dr. Jonthan Tilly, a reproductive biologist at Harvard Medical School and chief of research at MGH's department of obstetrics and gynecology. He is also the co-founder of a Boston-based fertility company called OvaScience.

Dr. Tilly says the new research published represents a first step in helping scientists understand what causes infertility in women.

"[It] allows us to study how these cells function, what factors they like or perhaps maybe what factors they don’t like, in terms of their ability to generate new eggs," Tilly said.

But many experts in the field of fertility are urging caution in how these early findings are interpreted.

So far, with human tissue, the research team has only produced immature egg cells. It is not yet clear if the procedure can yield real, mature egg cells that can be used to improve fertility in humans.

David Albertini of the Kansas University Medical Center pointed out to the New York Times that none of the criteria that scientist use to establish an unfertilized egg as high quality were satisfied in this study.


  • Barbara Katz Rothman, professor of sociology at the City University of New York and author of "Recreating Motherhood"
  • Karen Weintraub, CommonHealth contributor
  • Dr. Jonathan Tilly, reproductive biologist, Harvard Medical School


This segment aired on February 28, 2012.