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Infertility 'breakthrough': Human eggs fully grown in lab for the first time

Published: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 6:37 PM

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A group of scientists are touting an infertility "breakthrough" after human eggs have been grown in a lab from their earliest stages to the point of potential fertilization for the first time.

»RELATED: New, affordable at-home fertility test gives women better data on eggs, fertility timeline 

Researchers from the United Kingdom and the United States conducted the research, recently publishing their results in the scientific journal Molecular Human Reproduction

Taking ovarian tissue from 10 women in their late 20s and 30s, the scientists activitated the eggs to develop from their earliest stage to maturity, using different cocktails of nutrients. In total, 48 eggs reached the second to the last stage of maturity and nine reached full maturity.

"It's very exciting to obtain proof of principle that it's possible to reach this stage in human tissue," Dr. Evelyn Telfer, one of the researchers, told the BBC, discussing the results.

However, Telfer cautioned that much more research needs to be conducted before the technique could be used by fertilization clinics. Widespread implementation of the procedure could still be years away.

"But that has to be tempered by the whole lot of work needed to improve the culture conditions and test the quality of the oocytes [eggs]," she said.

"Apart from any clinical applications, this is a big breakthrough in improving understanding of human egg development."

The process would make it much easier for women to undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF), if developed fully, The Telegraph reported. They would simply have a small tissue biopsy, instead of distressing rounds of hormone-triggered ovulation.

Experts also suggest the breakthrough could lead to new approaches to fertility preservation for women at risk of premature fertility loss, such as those undergoing radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Young girls who have not yet gone through puberty could even preserve and freeze their ovarian tissue for future implantation.

At the same time, some scientists caution that the approach could have drawbacks for those with cancer.

"The big worry, and the big risk, is can you put cancer cells back," Dr. Stuart Lavery, a consultant gynecologist at Hammersmith Hospital, who was not involved with the study, told The Guardian.

At the same time, Telfer pointed out that it could be the only option for young girls who hope to get pregnant later in life after beating cancer.

"[For young girls] that is the only option they have to preserve their fertility." she said.

This new method could also dramatically increase the viable number of eggs that could be harvested from an individual woman about to undergo chemo.

With current techniques, patients must "go through the quick cycle of IVF before their chemo, so it can sometimes delay things, and also you may only get 15 eggs or so; because IVF is so inefficient, only having 10 or 15 eggs is not going to guarantee them a baby," Lavery explained.

"With this [new] procedure, you could potentially get thousands or hundreds of eggs," he said.

In the past, scientists have only managed to achieve partial growth of the human egg cells in a lab. The new study is groundbreaking in that the same human eggs were brought from their very earliest stages of development to the point when they would be released from the ovaries, ready for fertilization.

However, even as scientists are hailing the breakthrough, they also recognize potential problems and drawbacks. 

The lab grown eggs reached maturity in just 22 days, while the process takes five months in the body. This makes it unclear whether they can readily combine with sperm to make a healthy embryo. Telfer thinks the quicker growth may simply be due to many inhibitory signals from the body being absent, but more research is needed to determine exactly.

"Significant further research is now needed to confirm that these eggs are healthy and functioning as they should do," Dr. Helen Picton, an expert in reproduction and early development from the University of Leeds, said.

Despite the remaining questions and need for further study, experts are hailing the results as "extraordinarily important."

"It has real potential for application," Kyle Orwig, a stem cell biologist at the Magee-Womens Research Institute at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, who was not involved with the study, told Science Magazine.

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Teacher contracts both flu strains, now on life support

Published: Saturday, February 10, 2018 @ 3:41 PM

The Reason the Flu Shot Didn’t Work Half the Time During Last Year’s Flu Season

A special education teacher in Texas is fighting for her life after contracting both flu strains.

Crystal Whitley, 35, was physically active and had no underlying physical conditions, friends told WFAA, when she contracted both strains of influenza two weeks ago. She then developed pneumonia in both lungs and a MRSA infection.

>> Read more trending news 

While she is showing some signs of improvement, Whitley remains on life support at Baylor Scott & White, WFAA reported.

Whitley received a flu shot after giving birth in October, friends told WFAA.

Doctors are cautiously optimistic about Whitley's chances for recovery, but told family that she could remain in the hospital for months, WFAA reported.

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Obesity surgery safer than traditional treatments, study suggests

Published: Monday, January 22, 2018 @ 1:05 PM

Anti-Obesity Drug May Allow You To Lose Weight Without Changing Food Intake

Having surgery to treat obesity may seem like a drastic option, but a new study suggests it may actually be a safer route than more traditional options.

Researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and the Clalit Research Institute in Israel, recently published their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

»RELATED: New anti-obesity drug could help you get rid of fat without dieting

The analyzed data, which traced patients history for 10 years, revealed that middle-aged men and women who had bariatric surgery have a death rate 50 percent lower than those who had traditional obesity treatments (such as dietary changes, behavioral adjustments and exercise).

"We showed that a long-term effect of bariatric surgery is a longer life for obese patients," study co-author Dr. Philip Greenland, professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University said in a news release. "They had half the death rate, which is significant."

Among individuals who did not have surgery, the rate of death was 2.3 percent as opposed to 1.3 percent in those who had surgery. Researchers analyzed the medical data of 8,385 people who had the surgery (65 percent women and 35 percent men), compared to 25,155 who chose non-invasive treatments.

After the data was adjusted to take into account factors such as sex, age and related diseases, the researchers noted that individuals who did not have a bariatric procedure were twice as likely to be dead within the ten year period of the study.

» RELATED: Obesity linked to 11 types of cancer as overweight population grows, study says 

Additionally, bariatric surgery patients showed a greater reduction in body mass index (BMI), improved blood pressure and lower rates of new diabetes diagnosis. A higher percentage of those who had diabetes, and chose surgery, went into remission as well.

"Surgery sounds like a radical approach to managing obesity, and a lot of people reject it because it seems like a risky thing to do, but it's actually less risky to have the surgery," Greenland told The Guardian.

At the same time, the studies authors have cautioned that surgery may not be right for everyone. The new study also has limitations, as it was an analysis of patient data and not randomized. It's possible that those who chose to forego surgery were already sicker than their counterparts.

The risks of obesity surgery and its potential complications have long been highlighted by physicians as well.

Ray Shidrawi, a leading doctor in the United Kingdom, warned against the procedure in an interview with The Independent in 2015. Citing serious complications, Shidrawi said the surgery can "ruin people's quality of life and can affect you for the rest of your life – or at least for months and years afterwards."

"I've got patients who've not eaten solid food for four years. They have to live on soup. They can't go to a restaurant in case they vomit up their food because it gets stuck in their throat," he explained.

But another smaller recently published study also appears to corroborate the potentially greater health benefits of bariatric surgery.

Looking at 113 patients, who had been treated for obesity through traditional methods and/or surgery, the research showed those who underwent a bariatric procedure lost more weight after one year. A higher percentage of those who underwent surgery had also achieved their goals for cholesterol, systolic blood pressure and a benchmark for glucose.

"Bariatric surgery is an increasingly frequent treatment for severe obesity," Dr. Laura Rasmussen-Torvik, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern, who was a co-author of the first-mentioned study, said, according to Jerusalem Post.

"It's highly effective in promoting weight loss but is also invasive and can lead to short and long-term complications. For patients and doctors to make the best-informed decisions about what weight-loss strategies to pursue, they need to understand the true costs and benefits of the procedures."

Although Greenland believes bariatric surgery may be a lifesaver for many, he also cautions of taking the new studies findings as the all-encompassing answer on obesity.

"We don't think this [new study] alone is sufficient to conclude that obese patients should push for bariatric surgery, but this additional information certainly seems to provide additional support," he said.

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Lack of sunlight may cause winter weight gain, research suggests

Published: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 @ 10:02 AM

If you're having a hard time losing weight, here are some questions to ask yourself Do you snack between meals? How active are you? Is your weekend diet too relaxed? Do you drink enough water? How are you sleeping? Are your medications part of the problem?

We often blame our added winter pounds on the holidays. All the gatherings of family and friends combined with good food, often take the toll on our waistlines.

But if you're one of the many who laments adding a few pounds in December, it may not actually be entirely due to changes in your diet. In fact, new research suggests that a lack of sunlight may be causing some of that unwanted weight gain.

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The study, published by researchers at Canada's University of Alberta in the scientific journal Nature, reveals that blue light emitted by the sun actually causes fat cells sitting beneath the skin to shrink. In the winter months, when there is generally less sunlight in many regions and people readily cover their skin to stay warm, the cells store more fat.

"When the sun's blue light wavelengths − the light we can see with our eye - penetrate our skin and reach the fat cells just beneath, lipid droplets reduce in size and are released out of the cell. In other words, our cells don't store as much fat," Dr. Peter Light, who led the research said, according to The Independent.

In other words, the illusion of looking thinner after a day tanning at the beach may not be entirely an illusion. The sunlight we're exposed to actually has a slimming effect on our fat cells.

»RELATED: 6 reasons why you're not losing weight – even though you're trying

However, Light also cautions against using exposure to sunlight as a means of losing weight.

"We don't yet know the intensity and duration of light necessary for this pathway to be activated," he told Global News, explaining that the findings are preliminary and more research is necessary.

Light also explained that the discovery happened by accident. The research team was attempting to engineer fat cells to create insulin to help treat type 1 diabetes. Along the way, the scientists noted how the fat cells responded to sunlight.

Cracking a joke about the findings, Light told CBC that he's "finally living up to his name."

Forecasters expect a mostly sunny sky with highs in the upper 70s today. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)(Palm Beach Post Staff Writer)

Benefits of sunlight

Many people have long turned to tanning beds during the winter month, but Light said these methods don't necessarily have the same effect as direct exposure to the sun.

"We think that that great big nuclear reactor in the sky, the sun, is what's required," he explained. "We need really intense light to actually penetrate the skin."

The sun is already known to help our bodies generate vitamin D, and now Light believes his research has shown another important benefit to sunlight exposure.

"It may help regulate your body weight and a lack of it may actually lead to extra storage of [fat] in the winter," he said.

Next steps

While Light cautioned against jumping to any rash conclusions, he is optimistic that sunlight may one day be used in the treatment of obesity.

"Maybe this mechanism contributes to setting the number of fat cells we produce in childhood — thought to stay with us into adulthood," he said.

"Obviously, there is a lot of literature out there suggesting our current generation will be more overweight than their parents and maybe this feeds into the debate about what is healthy sunshine exposure," he added.

As of now, the research is only preliminary and more work is needed to determine the full effects and benefits of sunlight on weight. At the same time, the discovery has already suggests many interesting possibilities.

"Our initial first observation certainly holds many fascinating clues for our team and others around the world to explore," Light said.

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Mother of two dies just day after flu diagnosis

Published: Saturday, December 02, 2017 @ 12:24 PM

5 Reasons to get a Flu Shot

A young mother of two in Arizona died just one day after receiving a flu diagnosis, devastated family members said.

Alani Murrieta, 20, was diagnosed with the flu Monday and died Tuesday in the hospital, family members told KSAZ.

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Murrieta, the mother of a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old, was healthy before the sudden illness, with no pre-existing health conditions, according to family. She first experienced symptoms Sunday, when she left work early. On Monday, she went to urgent care, where she was diagnosed with the flu and sent home with medications. She was admitted to the hospital Tuesday morning as her symptoms became more severe and she was having difficulty breathing, KSAZ reported.

At the hospital, doctors performed tests and diagnosed Murrieta with pneumonia. She was placed on a ventilator, but her heart stopped. The efforts to resuscitate her were unsuccessful.

While family members said Murrieta didn't get a flu shot, early results show this year's formula may not be very effective at combatting this year's flu strains.

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