A developing technology known as IVG, short for in-vitro gametogenesis, could make it possible for same-sex couples to conceive a baby out of their own genetic material and no one else’s. They’d do this by having cells in their own bodies turned into sperm or egg cells.
The science of IVG has been underway for the last 20 years. But it really took off with research that would later win a Nobel Prize for a Japanese scientist named Shinya Yamanaka. In 2006, he found a way to turn any cell in the human body, even easy-to-harvest ones like skin and blood cells, into cells known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), which can be reprogrammed to become any cell in the body. Until that breakthrough, scientists working in regenerative medicine had to use more limited — and controversial — stem cells derived from frozen human embryos.
In 2016, researchers at Kyoto University in Japan announced that they had turned cells from a mouse’s tail into iPS cells and then made those into eggs that went on to gestate into pups. There are a lot of steps that still need to be perfected before this process of creating sex cells, also known as gametes, could work in humans.
There is now a small international group of scientists racing to recreate the mouse formula and reprogram human iPS cells into sperm and egg cells.
One of the key players is Amander Clark, a stem cell biologist at UCLA. “I do think we’re less than 10 years away from making research-grade gametes,” she says. Commercializing the technology would take longer, and no one can really predict how much so — or what it would possibly cost.