When women hit their 50s, most will start to experience menopause, when their ovaries stop producing fertile eggs. For some women, however, this process begins much earlier, occasionally before they even hit their forties, stopping them from ever having children. But now a team of researchers are claiming that they have managed to reverse menopause, New Scientist reports, stimulating the ovaries to release fertile eggs.
If confirmed, this astonishing achievement could revolutionize fertility treatment in women. By injecting the ovaries with what is known as Platelet-rich plasma (PRP), which is widely used to speed up the repair of damaged bones and tissue (though these claims are in question), the researchers somehow managed to stimulate the ovaries to produce eggs. They claim that they were able to retrieve fertile eggs from one patient who last had a period five years previously, and have since fertilized them with sperm from her husband.
The research, led by gynaecologist Konstantinos Sfakianoudis at the Greek fertility clinic Genesis Athens, has been presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology meeting this year. They say that so far they have given the treatment to 30 postmenopausal women between the ages of 46 and 49, in which case it has been successful in about two-thirds of them. They also gave the treatment to women who had previously failed IVF, after which three out of six became pregnant.
Yet it could have further reaches than just enabling menopausal women who want children to have them, as the technique could be used on those who don’t want to conceive, too. The hormones involved in the process not only prevent the release of eggs, but can also make women more susceptible to heart, bone, and skin disease. With many unwilling, uncomfortable, or unable to take replacement hormone therapy, turning back the time on the ovaries could potentially be a solution for these women.
Some have raised questions, however, about the credibility of the study, which is yet to be published due to the small sample size. The team went straight to human trials, without first testing it on animal models, which is not exactly the most ethical way to go about such an experiment, even if PRP has been used in humans for the treatment of other problems for decades. “This experiment would not have been allowed to take place in the UK,” Roger Sturmey, from Hull York Medical School in the UK, told the New Scientist.
The doctors are still not exactly sure how injecting the PRP actually works, and the research is yet to be properly reviewed, but they suspect it may be related to the stimulation of stem cells within the ovaries. It is already thought that throughout a woman’s life, a small number of stem cells continue to make eggs, but no one yet knows the details of this, or if this new technique somehow taps into this natural process.
Running parallel with questions on how the incredible results have been achieved are those that question the ethics of the procedure. Some already question giving IVF to older women, although with the age at which women choose to have children increasing due to the costs and pressures of modern life, it is now becoming a more standard practice for those who want to conceive in their 40s. But what should the upper age limits of pregnancy, especially after the body has already gone through menopause, be?