Japan-based biotech startup DioseveThe ambitious goal of is to grow human oocytes or eggs from another tissue. It aims to help people struggling with infertility and recently raised $3 million led by ANRI with participation from Coral Capital.
Dioseve’s mission may sound like something out of science fiction, but it is based on a scientific technique called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which was first developed in 2006.
The startup’s scientific advisor, Dr. Nobuhiko Hamazaki, a research specialist at the University of Washington, created Dioseve’s technology, called DIOLs (directly induced oocyte-like cells), which can massively convert iPS cells into oocytes. DIOLs is currently being tested and has been published in the scientific journal Nature.
The new funding will allow Dioseve to hire more people and accelerate its research and development. She aims to establish a proof-of-concept by getting mice to give birth with DIOLs-produced oocytes, and recently set up a new lab in Tokyo and hired an iPS specialist.
As Dr. Hamazaki explains, induced pluripotent stem cells can be used to grow all cells in the body. For example, other researchers are finding ways to use iPS to grow organs outside the body, induce beta cells in the pancreas in an attempt to cure diabetes, and generate neural stem cells to treat spinal cord injuries. iPS cells can be made from tissue such as muscle or blood cells.
DIOLs first create primordial germ cells, the source of sperm and eggs. It differentiates between them to find the oogonia, or oocyte precursor, and then introduces genes into the iPS cells. This means that people dealing with infertility could potentially use DIOL to have offspring with their own genetic material.
Dr. Hamazaki said that in the case of mice it usually takes 30 days to obtain oocytes, and in human oocytes it can take up to six months.
Dioseve’s CEO is Kazuma Kishida, who became interested in biotech when he was diagnosed with hepatitis C as a teenager. At the time, the available treatment had severe side effects and a low response rate, so his doctor told him to wait a few years as a new drug was being developed in the United States. After three years, Kishida received treatment that cured his hepatitis C. “This medicine really changed and contributed to the world,” he said. “I wanted to do something that could change the world like the new drug did.”
Kishida said Dioseve gave a lot of thought to the safety and ethics of DIOL, having conversations with potential patients and experts in science and medical ethics. Currently, the issues he is looking at include the legacy effect of the technology – can it not only produce healthy babies, but also avoid health problems in future generations?
“We are really serious about ethics. We have to be very careful because this technology can be applied to the process of making a child,” said Dr. Hamazaki, adding that “we need to have a deep conversation with society to reach a consensus on whether this is applicable and the range, who can implement this technology.
Dioseve is not the only biotech startup exploring ways to grow human oocytes. Others include Ivy Natal and Conception, both based in San Francisco, which are also developing ways to grow eggs from other cells. Dioseve says its competitive advantage is advances in research and practicality.