Pioneering treatment that reverses the symptoms of early menopause has raised hopes that women affected could go on to have children naturally.
Stem cells from bone marrow were injected into the ovaries of 33 women suffering premature ovarian failure (POF) who began to have periods again after six months.
As well as treating early menopause, which can lead to women becoming infertile in their forties or earlier, it could also offer an alternative to hormone replacement therapy.
The US researchers who conducted the study said their aim was to ‘support improvement in quality of life and reverse infertility’. Professor Prosper Igboeli, of the University of Augusta in Georgia, said: ‘POF is a challenging condition due to loss of ovarian function in women younger than 40 years.
Pioneering treatment that reverses the symptoms of early menopause has raised hopes that women affected could go on to have children naturally
‘It is particularly traumatic when the diagnosis is made in early reproductive life, leaving them with post-menopausal symptoms and infertility.
‘When POF patients desire pregnancy, the only current option is to receive donor eggs. Many women, due to various religious, cultural or ethical considerations, would like to use their own eggs.’
The oestrogen levels of the women in the study rose after they received the stem cell injections, and after six months their periods began again.
In a paper to be presented at the Society for Reproductive Investigation in San Diego, California, next week, the researchers said: ‘The patients demonstrated diminished post-menopausal symptoms from episodes of hot flushes to vaginal dryness and insomnia. In addition, no complications or safety issues have been reported so far in our study. This is an active ongoing study and we plan to present additional patient data in March 2018.’
Stem cells from bone marrow were injected into the ovaries of 33 women suffering premature ovarian failure (POF) who began to have periods again after six months (file photo)
They added a ‘longer follow-up in a larger cohort will be needed to validate the utility of this novel approach’.
All the women in the study are now trying to get pregnant.
Around one in 100 women suffer POF, also known as premature ovarian insufficiency (POI).
‘Chance of a normal life is so exciting’
Going through the menopause at 38 left Tanith Lee feeling she had ‘passed her sell-by date’.
Mrs Lee, a nutritional therapist and mother of two, said: ‘The psychological symptoms I experienced, including anxiety and loss of self-confidence, really took me by surprise.
‘I felt I was “less than” a woman, and just really old.’
Mrs Lee, 45, who blogs at www.mrsmenopause.co.uk, said research that could help reverse early menopause is ‘really positive’.
‘I meet teenagers and young women in their 20s going through the menopause,’ she said. ‘If they can get the ovaries working again that will make women feel better, their hormones will balance out again and they can lead a normal life. It’s really exciting.’
Dr Adam Balen, of the British Fertility Society, said: ‘When a woman goes through an early menopause there are no eggs remaining in the ovaries that are able to be ovulated. However, there is some evidence that a few eggs may remain that don’t have the mechanism to be released and fertilised.
‘This interesting research suggests it may be possible to resurrect activity within a dormant ovary. For how long and with what degree of fertility potential is still very uncertain and there is no doubt that much more research is required before this can be seen as a solution for women who experience POI.’
Dr Kate Maclaran and Dr Marie Gerval, of the Daisy Network charity, said: ‘This study offers hope for women with POI that in the future, they may be able to conceive naturally or have fertility treatment using their own eggs.
‘This technique has the potential to stimulate the resumption of ovarian function, not just allowing ovulation and pregnancy but also a return of normal hormone levels, which may reduce or avoid the need for hormone-replacement therapy. ‘Many questions remain unanswered… and cautious optimism must be the message at present. Although this treatment provides an exciting hope for the future, the efficacy and long-term safety of stem cell transplant for POI needs to be established in larger studies.’
Dr Christos Coutifaris, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, who was not involved in the study, said: ‘These preliminary findings are exciting.
‘The presented information suggests that injection of bone marrow-derived stem cells results in the prolongation of the lifespan of the ovary.
‘If these observations are validated under further experimental protocols, their implications for female fertility and reproductive hormonal function may prove extremely significant.’