A new way to restore ovarian function in rats has been discovered, scientists say, which may lead to future treatments for women with premature ovarian failure (POF).
This condition affects approximately one per cent of women under the age of 40 and can occur in women in their teens. The condition can prevent women from being able to conceive, and may also be associated with other medical problems, such as blood clots, osteoporosis and heart disease.
The researchers, led by Professor Osama Azmy at the National Research Centre in Cairo, used mesenchymal stem cells - that are capable of transforming into a number of different cell types - to repair damaged ovaries in rats.
Professor Azmy said: 'This is proof of concept and there is still a long way to go before we can apply this to women. Nevertheless, this work holds out the possibility that women with premature ovarian failure might be able to bear a baby of their own'.
The study involved dividing a group of 60 female rats into four groups. The first group was untreated and acted as a control. The other three were injected with a chemical, which induced ovarian failure. Of these three groups, one was treated with an injection of mesenchymal stem cells, one with a placebo, and the third did not receive an injection at all.
After two weeks, the rats that had received injections of mesenchymal stem cells apparently had fully functioning ovaries. Eight weeks after the injections, they were also found to have the same hormone levels as normal rats with fully functioning ovaries.
Professor Azmy said: 'What we have done is proven that we can restore apparently fully functioning ovaries in rats. The next step is to look how these rats might reproduce'.
'We have not yet reached the stage of producing offspring, and so we will need to understand if the baby rats will be genetically related to the mother, or to the donor of the stem cells'.
These findings were announced at the World Congress on Fertility and Sterility in Munich.