A new blood treatment developed by researchers in Greece reportedly has the power to reverse menopause, enabling post-menopausal women to release eggs once again.
None of this has been peer-reviewed as yet, but if the results can be verified by others in the scientific community, the treatment might allow women to have offspring later in life.
It could also provide a treatment for those suffering from early menopause, a condition that affects roughly 1 percent of all women.
Unlike men, who continuously produce sperm, women are born with all of their eggs, and release, on average, one a month between the start of puberty and the start of menopause.
That means that, as a woman gets older, the amount of eggs she carries gets lower and lower. Eventually – normally around age 50 – menopause starts, ending fertility by stopping the body from releasing eggs.
But in today's world, when women are waiting longer and longer to have children, this can be a problem, because they can be running low on eggs by the time they start trying to get pregnant.
Around 1 percent of women also go through early menopause – which occurs when eggs stop releasing before a woman turns 40.
This is just one of the reasons that more and more couples are seeking fertility treatments in the form of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and egg freezing – both of which are not guaranteed to work and can come with side effects.
But now a team of researchers led by Konstantinos Sfakianoudis from Genesis Athens – a Greek fertility clinic – is claiming they've actually been able to reverse menopause, using a woman's own blood to restart her menstrual cycle.
As Jessica Hamzelou reports for New Scientist, the basis of the new therapy is platelet-rich plasma (PRP) – which is created when a person's blood is put into a centrifuge to isolate plasma that's especially rich in platelets.
PRP is still heavily debated, but it's thought to regenerate tissue by triggering the growth of muscle and bone tissue, and is being trialled as a way to help treat injuries.
So the team from Genesis Athens decided to see if it might have a similar effect when injected into the ovaries of post-menopausal women.
To their surprise, they were able to restart the menstrual cycles of several patients, including one woman who hadn't had her period for five years.
This patient was also able to release three eggs following the treatment. And, to make the news even more exciting, Hamzelou reports that the team was able to fertilise two of these eggs using her husband's sperm – but the team is waiting to have three fertilised eggs before implanting them in her uterus.
All up, the team has reportedly performed the treatment on 30 women and have been successful about two-thirds of the time, though they are not entirely sure why PRP works to restore cellular function.
"It seems to work in about two-thirds of cases," Sfakianoudis told New Scientist. "We see changes in biochemical patterns, a restoration of menses, and egg recruitment and fertilisation."
The team recently reported their findings at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, but to be clear, none of this has been peer-reviewed as yet, so we need a lot more verification before we start getting excited about the potential treatment.
We also don't know about any side effects as yet, or how long-lasting the effects are.
But according to Sfakianoudis, the research "offers hope that menopausal women will be able to get pregnant using their own genetic material".
Plus, the treatment could also offer women the option to forego the unpleasant side effects of menopause, such as hot flashes and hormonal changes, whether they want to get pregnant or not.
Understandably, other researchers are skeptical.
"It is potentially quite exciting," Roger Sturmey, a researcher from Hull York Medical School in the UK, who was not a part of the study, told New Scientist. "But it also opens up ethical questions over what the upper age limit of mothers should be."
It's important to point out that the worry here isn't about dictating when women should 'be allowed' to have a child, the concern is how old a woman can be before miscarriage rates – or other conditions like pre-eclampsia – become dangerously high.
Also, Sturmey argues that the treatment should have undergone animal testing before human trials to ensure it was safe.
"This experiment would not have been allowed to take place in the UK," Sturmey said. "The researchers need to do some more work to make sure that the resulting eggs are okay."
We'll be curiously (and skeptically) watching for more news on this treatment – and hopefully further verification – in future.
H/T: New Scientist