Just as a sperm and an egg can come together in a test tube, doctors in the United States and Japan have partnered on a new technique to make it possible for women who have had an early menopause to conceive. This new technique “reactivates” an infertile woman’s ovaries to begin producing eggs again. Medical teams from Stanford University, in the U.S. and St. Marianna University in Japan, have developed a procedure to remove the ovaries, reawaken them in the lab, and then re-implant the ovarian tissue back into the woman. This new infertility treatment that “reactivates” the ovaries could be the answer to the one in 100 women who suffer from a too early menopause caused by a condition known as premature ovarian failure, in which the woman basically runs out of eggs.
Evidence that the technique works happened recently when one of the 27 woman participating in the development of the technique gave birth to a baby, while another is pregnant as reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. All of the women in the study suffered from what the report is labeling “primary ovarian insufficiency,” which is the same as premature ovarian failure. This condition should not be confused with premature menopause, since women with premature ovarian failure can continue to have irregular periods for years, which could result in pregnancy, while those who experience premature menopause stop menstruating altogether with no chance of pregnancy.
For a normal menstruating woman, hormones are released each month that activate the follicles in the ovaries, which contain the eggs, to mature. Usually only one will reach maturity, releasing the egg into the fallopian tube where it can become fertilized. This continues monthly until about the age of 51, which is the average age a woman in the U.S. begins the process of menopause. But, for some women, follicle depletion or disruption can cause the onset of menopause much sooner than normal.
For women wanting to become pregnant, this technique is described by Professor Nick Macklon, University of Southampton, as a “potential game changer.” He sees “reactivating” the ovaries as a new treatment for infertility in women who have an early menopause as “promising.” Professor Aaron Hsueh, a member of the Stanford team estimates “it could help 25 to 30 percent of women.” He and the others believe it could also help two other groups who face infertility, cancer survivors and women between the ages of 40 and 45, who suffer from irregular menstrual cycles.
According to Hsueh, survivors of cancer who have not had all their follicles destroyed during radiation or chemotherapy treatments could be helped by this new technique. But, he goes on to say that the implications are still unclear for those with early menopause and that the technique needs more testing before being released for use by physicians. This new infertility treatment, which “reactivates” the ovaries could very well be the answer for many women going through early menopause and unable to get pregnant and it will be in the words of Professor Macklon, “A very exciting piece of science.”
By: Lisa Nance