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Oocyte stem cells: fact or fantasy?

For many decades, the dogma prevailed that female mammals had a finite pool of oocytes at birth and this was gradually exhausted during a lifetime of reproductive function. However, in 2004, a new era began in the field of female oogenesis. A study was published that appeared to detect oocyte-stem cells capable of generating new eggs within mouse ovaries. This study was highly controversial and the years since this initial finding have produced extensive research and even more extensive debate into their possibility. Unequivocal evidence testifying to the existence of oocyte-stem cells (OSCs) has yet to be produced, meanwhile the spectrum of views from both sides of the debate are wide-ranging and surprisingly passionate. Although recent studies have presented some convincing results that germ cells exist and are capable of creating new oocytes, many questions remain. Are these cells present in humans? Do they exist in physiological conditions in a dormant state? This comprehensive review first examines where and how the dogma of a finite pool was established, how this has been challenged over the years and addresses the most pertinent questions as to the current status of their existence, their role in female fertility, and perhaps most importantly, if they do exist, how can we harness these cells to improve a woman’s oocyte reserve and treat conditions such as premature ovarian insufficiency (POI: also known as premature ovarian failure, POF).

Source: The journal of Reproductive Science

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