Science Might Know What Causes Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, & A Cure Could Be OTW

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Women who suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) know how difficult living with the condition can be; the rest of us can only imagine. For those who aren't familiar with PCOS, the condition comes with a slew of symptoms — including irregular (infrequent, heavy, or prolonged) periods, elevated levels of the male hormone androgen (sometimes causing excess body hair and acne), and enlarged ovaries with follicles surrounding the eggs. Aside from these sometimes painful and often bothersome issues, it can be extremely difficult or impossible for women with PCOS to conceive naturally. However, a new study seems particularly promising to families affected by the condition. In fact, science might know what causes polycystic ovary syndrome, and a cure could be on the way.

A new study published in the journal Nature Medicine serves as a ray of hope for women suffering with PCOS. That's because a team led by Paolo Giacobini from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research found a link between a hormonal imbalance in the womb and PCOS. Specifically, it was prenatal exposure to the growth factor anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH), IFLScience! reported. So here's the lowdown: researchers discovered that levels of AMH were 30 percent higher in pregnant women with PCOS than in women without the condition. Since there is a known genetic component with PCOS, the researchers decided to see if women with the hormonal imbalance went on to give birth to daughters with PCOS.

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Naturally, the researchers started with mice. They injected pregnant mice with AMH, and these mice ended up giving birth to daughters who eventually developed PCOS-like symptoms — including irregular ovulation, fertility issues, and delayed puberty, New Scientist reported. The AMH seemed to cause an overstimulation of certain brain cells — called GnRH neurons — which manage testosterone levels in the body, IFLScience! reported. Here's the exciting part: Researchers were successfully able to reverse the effect in mice by using an IVF drug called cetrorelix, New Scientist reported. In fact, the mice ceased to have PCOS symptoms at all after treatment.

“It’s a radical new way of thinking about polycystic ovary syndrome and opens up a whole range of opportunities for further investigation,” Robert Norman with the University of Adelaide, Australia, told New Scientist.

Now, researchers plan to begin a clinical trial of cetrorelix in women with PCOS — and it could start by the end of this year. Needless to say, this is fantastic news for the roughly 5 million women in the U.S. who suffer from PCOS, according to HuffPost. Soon, they may find relief for their irregular periods, acne, body hair — and most importantly for many women, their infertility. “It could be an attractive strategy to restore ovulation and eventually increase the pregnancy rate in these women,” Giacobini told New Scientist.

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One of my best friends suffers from PCOS, and has for quite some time. Between extremely heavy periods that sometimes last for more than a month (back-to-back, at that) and her ongoing struggle with infertility, I'm well-aware of how the condition can impact a woman's life. What's particularly frustrating is my friend got married about a year before I did, and has been trying to conceive ever since. It's been nearly nine years now, and her dreams of becoming a mother still haven't come true. For me, it's been heartbreaking (and I'm sure it's infinitely more devastating for her) to witness to her struggles. Especially since during this span of time, I've had three children of my own with little difficultly.

I truly hope the cetrorelix trials yield positive results in the treatment of PCOS. Because a potential path to parenthood — that's not nearly as expensive or invasive as full-on IVF — could open so many doors for women with PCOS who continue to struggling with infertility.