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Friday, 27 July, 2001, 00:14 GMT 01:14 UK
Period pills pass initial tests
Many women suffer from period problems
Drugs that can safely suppress menstruation have passed their first tests in animals.

Not only do the drugs have the potential to help women who suffer from period problems, they may also help some women avoid the need for major hysterectomy operations.

Two drugs, known as antiprogestins, have been successfully tested on rhesus macaque monkeys.

One can, depending on dose, allow ovulation but block menstruation. The other blocks both.

Significantly, both drugs block the effects of oestrogen on the lining of the uterus, thus preventing the potentially dangerous build-up of endometrial cells which could occur if menstruation is blocked.

The studies have been carried out in Dr Robert Brenner's laboratory at Oregon Regional Primate Research Centre in the USA.

Rhesus macaque monkeys were used because they are one of the only animals that regularly menstruates and the mechanism in the brain, ovary and uterus controlling their periods is identical to that of humans.

Therefore, the results should be directly applicable to women.

Quality of life

The drugs were tested on macaque monkeys
Dr Brenner said: "A reliable means of menstrual suppression would greatly improve the quality of life for women.

"The modern woman is accustomed to having control over her reproductive functions and menstruation is one function that many women would like to control.

"It is possible to use the oral contraceptive pill without the pill-free interval for this purpose, but not all women can tolerate the Pill and there are some health conditions that proscribe its use."

All the animals that were given the new drugs remained in good health.

Their normal menstrual cycles resumed within 41 days after treatment was stopped.

Dr Brenner said one of the advantages of the new drugs was that they used very low doses.

This means that women would be able to take them for as long as they wanted to suppress menstruation, but then start normal cycles again very shortly after giving up the treatment.

Quick development

Dr Brenner said treatments should be available to women "within a few years".

He added: "I would emphasise that we are not talking here only about lifestyle choices but also about the potential to bring relief to the many women who suffer years of misery from distressing complaints such as endometriosis, and painful and excessive monthly bleeding."

Excessive bleeding is one of the major reasons that women undergo hysterectomy.

Therefore, this treatment may also reduce the need for this surgical procedure.

Dr Brenner's team is already working on the next generation of menstruation suppressants that will have the potential to prevent medical conditions such as endometriosis and uterine fibroids.

Endometriosis is a difficult-to-treat condition in which clumps of cells that line the uterus escape from the womb and become deposited on other organs in the pelvis. It can cause period pain and infertility.

The research is published in the journal Human Reproduction.

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