In vitro derived gametes

Key facts

  • In-vitro derived gametes are sperm and eggs derived in the laboratory from alternative sources, such as embryonic stem cells. UK scientists are currently conducting research in this area.
  • HFEA's Scientific and Clinical Advances Advisory Committee (SCAAC) estimate that while research teams could produce sperm from stem cells by in the next few years, the production of eggs from stem cells could be longer. The group thought that it would be at least 5-10 years before eggs or sperm could be produced that could potentially be used in treatment.
  • SCAAC said there were still very significant safety concerns about using in-vitro derived gametes in treatment.

Why do in-vitro derived gametes matter?

  • In-vitro derived gametes provide the possibility of having genetically-related children for people who currently cannot produce their own eggs and sperm.
  • The theory of in-vitro derived gametes would suggest that it would be possible for same sex couples to have a child that was genetically related to both partners, but scientists currently believe it would not be possible to generate sperm from female stem cells and very difficult to generate eggs from male stem cells.
  • The safety of in-vitro derived gametes is unknown. Scientists are concerned that the very complex process needed to generate them has great potential for chromosomal abnormalities and other severe genetic problems. Current scientific knowledge does not allow a realistic assessment of safety to be made.

What is the legal position?

  • Under the HFE Act (as amended), in vitro derived gametes are allowed for research but not treatment. In vitro derived gametes are not permitted gametes as they have not been produced or extracted from the ovaries of a woman or the testes of a man.
  • The derivation of in-vitro derived gametes for research does not require a licence from the HFEA. However a licence would be required if researchers wished to use in vitro derived gametes to create an embryo to test whether they were capable of fertilisation.

Back to top

What is the role of the HFEA?

  • The new HFE Act permits in vitro derived gametes for use in research, but not for treatment.
  • The in-vitro derivation of gametes for research does not require a licence from the HFEA.
  • Anybody wishing to create embryos for research using in vitro derived gametes would require a licence from the HFEA.

What we are doing?

  • The HFEA's 'horizon-scanning' work is continuing to monitor the progress of scientific research in this area.

Further information

Back to top

Page last updated: 07 July 2009

Embryo research

Research on a human embryoFind out about human embryo research taking place throughout the UK - including human-animal hybrids and stem cell reseach.

...more about embryo research