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Israeli Study of Zebrafish Ovaries Could Cure Infertility


The study of zebrafish ovaries might lead to new treatments for infertility. So say researchers from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem who conducted research into the matter.

Israel Startup Nation’s scientists and companies have both been working on cures for all manner of medical problems from cancer to blindness. And infertility is also being tackled by Israel. For example, Daniella Gilboa co-founded AiVF, an Israeli FemTech startup specializing in the area of fertility treatment. Daniella is an embryologist, a biostatistician, an entrepreneur and an IVF researcher. Her vast experience in embryology is what led Daniella co-found AiVF. The company works on improving the in vitro fertilization process. AiVF has shown that the genetic characteristics in embryos can be determined through a noninvasive procedure using artificial intelligence tech.

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Now, Dr. Yaniv Elkouby at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU)’s Faculty of Medicine has been working on infertility through research on the development of the immature egg cells (oocytes) of zebrafish.

Using unique research tools developed in his lab, researchers were able to watch in real-time as a cluster of oocytes progressed towards maturity. It was during one of these experiments that they saw a hitherto unobserved structure emerging from the cell. Looking like a twisted fiber, called a cilium, it extended into the mass of surrounding eggs. Further research showed these cilia play an essential role in chromosomal organization within oocytes. Moreover, they subsequently identified the same structure within the sperm cells of zebrafish and in mouse oocytes and sperm.

Their findings were published in Science.

This has implications for their role within human reproduction. One of the problems with infertility is when a woman’s body cannot properly provide what is needed for a fertilized embryo to develop or to be held by the body. This leads to miscarriages.

Elkouby pointed out that to explore the function of these new cilia, his team had to apply and develop new advanced methodologies. “We used a repertory of methods, including advanced quantitative and live microscopy,” he said, “innovative three-dimensional high-resolution imaging, ovary organ culture, manipulations using laser excision, and genetic analyses of multiple mutants.”

In this way, his team was able to identify that the newly identified cilium is connected to a “cable-system” within the cell that organizes the chromosomes by mechanically pulling on them. This process is an essential part determining the formation of a fully functional egg that can give rise to healthy offspring. The external cilium anchors the entire cable-system machinery within the egg enabling the essential precise dynamics of the chromosomes to be achieved.

This could also help with in vitro fertilization. According to the American Pregnancy Association, the success rate of IVF depends on a variety of factors including reproductive history, maternal age, the cause of infertility, and certain general health factors. They also point out that pregnancy rates are not the same as live birth rates. In the United States, the live birth rate for each IVF cycle started is approximate: 41-43% for women under age 35; 33-36% for women ages 35 to 37; 23-27% for women ages 38 to 40; 13-18% for women ages over 40.

Couples and single people trying to conceive, or have a child through surrogacy using IVF is a serious issue. It has been a theme of television show episodes and movies alike for years.

So, it is not too bold to say that someday soon Israeli expertise will find ways to not only lengthen life, but also cure paralysis, deafness and blindness, and find ways to help anyone in the world who wants to start a family of their own do so.



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