Page last updated at 03:20 GMT, Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Hormone 'to restart reproduction'

Woman taking pregnancy test
The treatment may give new hope to infertile women

A team of UK scientists says a recently discovered hormone could potentially form the basis of an effective and less risky fertility treatment.

Kisspeptin could restore reproductive function in women with low sex hormone levels whose system has shut down, says the team from Imperial College London.

The hormone plays a key role in stimulating release of the hormones which control the menstrual cycle.

The study was presented at a Society for Endocrinology conference.

This is a very exciting result
Dr Waljit Dhillo
Imperial College London
Humans and animals lacking kisspeptin do not go through puberty and remain sexually immature.

In a previous study, the researchers, from Imperial College London, showed that kisspeptin treatment leads to the production of sex hormones in fertile women.

Now they have now extended their research to look at the effects of kisspeptin in women whose periods have stopped owing to a hormone imbalance.

In the latest study, a group of 10 women who were not menstruating and were infertile were injected with either kisspeptin or a saline solution.

Blood samples were then taken to measure their levels of two key hormones essential for ovulation and fertility - luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH).

Compared to the placebo treatment, kisspeptin led to a 48-fold increase in LH and 16-fold increase in FSH.

Lead researcher Dr Waljit Dhillo said kisspeptin treatment stimulated a greater increase in LH production in non-menstruating women than in fertile women in the previous study.

He said: "Infertility is a devastating condition that affects millions of couples worldwide.

"This is a very exciting result and suggests that kisspeptin treatment could restore reproductive function in women with low sex hormone levels.

Subtle effect

Our future research will focus on determining the best protocol for repeated kisspeptin administration with the hope of developing a new therapy for infertility."

Professor Richard Anderson, a fertility expert at the University of Edinburgh, said the research held the promise of a more effective and subtle way of treating women whose reproductive systems had effectively closed down.

He said most current treatments involved directly stimulating the ovaries, which carried a risk both of multiple pregnancies and side effects.

In contrast, the use of a therapy based on kisspeptin would potentially address the underlying problem, effectively re-awakening the reproductive system, while - unlike alternative treatments - ensuring the body's own protective regulatory mechanisms remained in place.

Professor Anderson said: "This is one of the most interesting new hormones that has been discovered for a very long time, and in time it may well become a mainstream part of therapy."

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