Close to one in five women suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) but that may all be about to change, with a possible cure on the horizon at last.
The PCOS mystery
The most common cause of female infertility – polycystic ovary syndrome – may be caused by a hormonal imbalance before birth. The finding has led to a cure in mice, and a drug trial is set to begin in women later this year.
PCOS is characterised by a variety of pain and misery-causing symptoms such as elevated testosterone levels; weight gain; ovarian cysts; irregular periods; hair and skin complaints; insulin resistance; depression and/or anxiety; and fertility issues.
“It’s by far the most common hormonal condition affecting women of reproductive age but it hasn’t received a lot of attention,” the University of Adelaide’s Robert Norman told New Scientist, in the wake of these new PCOS findings.
While there’s been theories about all kinds of factors influencing PCOS development – things like diet, weight and diabetes – new research suggests the syndrome may simply be passed from mother to daughter in-utero.
The French National Institute of Health and Medical Research’s Paolo Giacobini and his colleagues have led the charge with this new research. They’ve discovered that PCOS may be triggered before birth by excess exposure to the anti-Müllerian hormone in the womb.
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Reversing PCOS before birth
The findings may now help fight the syndrome in girls and women, before birth.
“Researchers discovered that pregnant women with polycystic ovary syndrome have 30 per cent higher levels of anti-Müllerian hormone than normal,” New Scientist reports.
“Since the syndrome is known to run in families, they wondered if this hormonal imbalance in pregnancy might induce the same condition in their daughters.”
Working with mice, the research team disovered that if they injected pregnant mice with anti-Müllerian hormone, they developed PCOS symptoms.
“The team were able to reverse this effect in the mice using Cetrorelix, an IVF drug routinely used to control women’s hormones,” New Scientist says. “After treatment with this drug, the mice stopped showing symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome.”
From mother to daughter
If the syndrome is indeed passed from mothers to daughters via hormones in the womb, that could explain why it’s been so hard to pinpoint any genetic cause of the disorder, Robert Norman said.
He also revealed the anti-Müllerian hormone diminishes as women with PCOS grow older, and notes that this is why some women with PCOS find it easier to get pregnant a little later in life.
Such promising news for women who live with PCOS. Here’s hoping this brilliant success fighting PCOS symptoms in mice will lead to a cure for women too.