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Scientists in Australia: it is possible to fertilize eggs without sperm cells

Researchers from Australia announced yesterday that they have found a method to fertilize eggs by normal body cells, not just sperm cells 

Researchers from Australia announced yesterday that they have found a method to fertilize eggs by normal body cells, not just sperm cells. The scientists said that the development of the method stemmed from a desire to help men who are infertile due to damage to the cells that produce the sperm, and in addition - this method may allow lesbian couples to have biological children.

The head of the research team, Dr. Orly Lech-Kaplan from Monash University in Melbourne, said in an interview with BBC News that "we are at the stage where we have fertilized mouse eggs in laboratory dishes and we have embryos that are ready for implantation in the uterus." According to her, "Now, in order to know if the method really works - we need to transfer the embryos to the uterus of a surrogate mouse and see if the embryos are viable, and if indeed they will give birth to live and healthy babies."

The research team estimated that within a few months they will know if the embryos grown in the laboratory flasks can develop into healthy puppies. Dr. Lech-Kaplan said that "we hope that then we will know if we can continue with the next step with this method, and see if it also works in humans."

Normal body cells contain two copies of each chromosome, while sperm cells contain only one copy. If it were possible to fertilize an egg with a normal cell, an excess of chromosomes would have formed in it, but if an embryo had developed from it - it would have been a damaged embryo. The team of scientists used a chemical method to get rid of one of the two copies of the chromosomes in a normal cell, a method that mimics the process that occurs naturally in fertilization. In this process, the two sets of chromosomes in the egg separate, one of them is ejected from the egg and only one set of chromosomes remains, which unites with the set of chromosomes of the sperm.
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The pride of the neighborhood

"Orly's invention and success makes people in the neighborhood proud," they say in the HaTikva neighborhood
"Many talents came out of the Hatikva neighborhood - Ofra Haza, Avner Gadsi, Asher Reuveni. We have Bnei Yehuda, which we are proud of even though it was relegated, and now we also have a famous scientist," says proudly Daniel Cohen, a butcher at the Tikva market, the neighborhood where Dr. Orli Lehm-Kaplan grew up and which became famous this week throughout the world. The research team headed by Lehm-Kaplan has developed a technique for fertilization without sperm, using other cells from the body. This means that any infertile man can become a father, and lesbian women who want to have a child, will be freed from the dependence on male sperm.

"Orly's invention and success makes people in the neighborhood proud," continues Cohen, who has known her since childhood. "Many more will come after her, because there are many gifted people here with hope."

According to the method developed by the team of Australian scientists from the Fertility and Development Research Institute at Monash University in Melbourne, the cells are taken from the male's muscle or around the female's egg, undergo a process with the help of special chemicals during which the cell gets rid of half its number of chromosomes, and is brought to a state similar to that of an original sperm cell. After that, the simulated sperm cells are implanted into the eggs and this is how fertilization occurs.

"Theoretically," Lehm-Kaplan explains, "the method will allow couples in which the man does not produce sperm to have a child of their own, and for two lesbians to have a child when one of them donates the egg and the other the cell that improved it."

- This means that you make men unnecessary.

"Never. I really like men and my husband. I do not believe that a sensible woman would choose to give birth with this technique. It is a very difficult process, which requires a lot of time in hospitals and egg retrieval. The invention is not intended for women who can give birth to children independently, but is intended to help people who really need it."

"I saw mice being fertilized and I couldn't believe it"

The matter began to gain momentum on Monday this week, when Dr. Lehm-Kaplan arrived to give a lecture in Switzerland. "After they realized the potential of my discovery, a media frenzy began all over the world," she recalls. "I already had my moment of excitement two years ago in the laboratory, when I saw fertilized mouse embryos for the first time and I couldn't believe it. Since then I have hardly taken my head out of the seeds, the cells, the mice and the laboratory."

As you can imagine, Lehm-Kaplan's team has already succeeded in creating a mouse embryo. "We were able to fertilize a mouse egg in a male cell from the body of a male mouse," she continues. "The mouse embryo we created is developing nicely and soon we will implant it in the womb of a surrogate mother, a mouse. It was a very long process and less glamorous than it seems, but on the day we receive a child of a mouse born without the use of sperm from a male mouse, a bottle of wine will be opened."

However, Lehm-Kaplan is aware of the need to examine the effects of this fertilization over several generations of
mice, before it can be tried on humans.

In the future, problems may arise in the promotion of research, because of the Australian law that prohibits the use of humans for research or experimental purposes. "We will have to do the rest of the research outside of Australia. I hope there will be someone in the world who wants to develop this into something real.

"But before even thinking about moving to experiments on humans, we have to wait 12 months until we get definitive answers about the offspring of the fertilized mice. You have to see that they are genetically normal and then check if they can be fertile on their own."

Lehm-Kaplan, 39, male fertility doctor, arrived in Australia 14 years ago straight from Billinson Hospital. She was born in Tel Aviv, to a family of nine. She spent her childhood in the Hatikva neighborhood. She studied at the Jordan School in the neighborhood and at Urban High School T, completed her undergraduate and graduate studies at Tel Aviv University, and then received a scholarship and went to study in Australia, where she completed her doctorate, where she also met her husband, an Israeli resident of Australia.

"Even as a child she was very serious and invested in her studies, unlike many children in the neighborhood," says Daniel Cohen, the butcher from the market. "She and her brothers were always different from the other children. When the kids in the neighborhood were busy making messes and nonsense, they would sit and study. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the Lehm family. The word 'bread' means meat in Arabic, and both Orli's grandfather and her uncle were butchers in the market. The one who pushed them to study and invest was actually their mother, Shaw Lamit."

Orly Lehm-Kaplan does not forget who brought her this far. "It is true that the environment in which I grew up is different from the environment in Australia where I live and work today," she says, "but what is important is what I and my six siblings received from home. For us it was a rule to go to university and get a bachelor's and master's degree. I left the neighborhood a long time ago, but I believe that everyone, no matter where they are from, can get everything they want. If you have support from home, from your parents, like mine was, the sky is the limit."

Mother's genius
"Orly's success gives me a lot of pleasure"

"My dream was to be a doctor," says Shulamit Lehm, mother of Orli Lehm-Kaplan. "It was very important to me that my children be educated"

"In the morning, people called me and told me that they had read an article about Orli in the newspaper," says Shulamit Lehm, mother of Dr. Orli Lehm-Kaplan, and is elated. "I called her and asked her 'why didn't you tell me?' She said she couldn't tell until the study was done. "I raised Orli and her six brothers and sisters in the Hatikva neighborhood during difficult times, but I always believed that what was important was the home."

Shulamit moved to Livna after her husband, David, died. "My husband always took care of his livelihood and I took care of the children's education," she says. "I immigrated to Israel from Iraq, where I was considered the scholar of the family. My dream was to be a doctor and my eldest daughter told me not long ago that since she was a child, she remembers me with a book in my hand. Orly did it. It was very important to me that my children be educated. Fortunately, I have talented children. One of the boys jumped a grade and everyone is successful today in what they do. Orly's success makes me proud and gives me a lot of pleasure."
nBased on a news item by Itai Chaimovich and Itai Asher, Ma'ariv.   

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