Ovarian function in women prior to menopause is an important topic. That’s because a number of women who are under the age of forty will develop premature ovarian failure. Statistics estimate that one percent will experience this condition.
What is Premature Ovarian Failure?
When the ovaries of a woman younger than the age of forty stop working, this is known as premature ovarian failure. When this happens, a woman will no longer produce eggs or hormones from her ovaries.
One of the biggest issues when this occurs is that a woman will no longer be fertile. At present, we have no treatment to reverse this process and restore a woman’s fertility. With many women delaying family planning until their thirties or forties, the effects can be particularly devastating for women who experience premature ovarian failure.
Searching for New Treatments
In one recent study, however, researchers were able to restore the ovarian function in rats that had premature ovarian failure. Although it is still a very early study and certainly requires long-term testing on humans, it brings some hope that we may one day find a way to treat this problem.
Stem Cells to Restore Ovarian Function
By using embryonic rat stem cells, researchers found they were able to bring back ovarian functioning in the rats. Initially, they studied sixty mature female rats by dividing them into four groups.
Testing Stem Cells on Ovarian Functioning
In the first group of rats, no treatment was received. This means that the first group of rats was considered the control group to compare other groups to in the experiment. All the other rats in groups two to four received a chemical to trigger ovarian failure. These groups had fifteen rats per group.
For the second group, once ovarian failure had occurred, they were treated via injections of the stem cells. By using male stem cells, researchers could then see exactly where the stem cells were located once injected. They would look for a Y chromosome to identify this location.
For the third group of rats that had ovarian failure, they received a saline solution while the fourth group with ovarian failure received nothing. Researchers then assessed levels of two important hormones to see if the rats that received a treatment went back to normal.
Restored Ovarian Functioning
Results were very positive, showing that within a two week time period, the rats that received the stem cell treatment had fully functioning ovaries again. By eight weeks later, the hormone levels of these rats were the same as the rats who never had ovarian failure – the first group.
Helping Women Regain Fertility
An important step now is to actually investigate how the rats will reproduce and to then ensure that the offspring of the rats are healthy. The study is only a proof-of-concept one and we are still many years away from a treatment. The research does, however, offer real hope that one day in the future we may be able to restore ovarian function in the many women who suffer from premature ovarian failure.