Stem cells can revive menopausal ovaries

The desperation a woman suffers when she can’t conceive and longs for a baby is one I have felt.

It was between the births of my two sons when conception of my second boy evaded me so painfully I became hysterical.

So I empathise with the many women who know the anguish of being childless. And I’m optimistic that a new fertility treatment could bring hope for the family they crave.

It involves our miraculous stem cells with the power to grow into ­everything. Every organ in the body. In their latest guise they’re reversing early menopause, restoring fertility and eliminating the need for hormone replacement therapy.

In one case, a Canadian doctor’s ovaries, that had prematurely stopped functioning six years previously, were “rejuvenated” after researchers ­transplanted stem cells from her bone marrow into them. Seven months later her periods came back.

To rejuvenate an ovary that’s stopped functioning, scientists first extract 150ml of bone marrow, which is particularly rich in stem cells, from the top of the pelvis.

About 5ml of stem cells are harvested from the mix and injected into the patient’s right ovary where the stem cells are thought to stimulate the ovary by pumping out growth factors and hormones.

The goal is to develop this technique into a female infertility treatment, whereby it could also replace HRT with a surgical procedure, after which a patient makes her own oestrogen.

The stem cell therapy is first being tested on 33 patients with primary ovarian insufficiency (POI).

More than nine out of 10 women with POI are unable to conceive because one in 100 women enter the menopause before the age of 40.

With stem cells these women might become pregnant. Professor Ayman Al-Hendy of Chicago University said: “POI patients cannot produce their own eggs. They also have menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, they suffer mood swings and vaginal dryness.

“If they want to get pregnant they need to borrow eggs from healthy donors, but then the children are not biologically related to their mothers.”

The first patient’s levels of oestrogen soared four times and her menopausal symptoms improved.

The fantastic news is all 33 women treated got their periods back and their ovaries grew back to several times their former size, so resurrecting activity in a dormant ovary.

Adam Balen, professor of ­reproductive medicine at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and head of the British Fertility Society, said this early research is promising.

Yes, there’s a way to go but hope is on the horizon.