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Restoring fertility in women with disabling ovary disorder

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A University of Otago research team whose ultimate goal is to restore fertility in women suffering Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), has received a significant boost with an almost $5 million grant from the Health Research Council.

The team is led by Associate Professor Rebecca Campbell from the University’s Centre for Neuroendocrinology, Brain Health Research Centre, and Department of Physiology. She is one of five researchers from around the country who have received sizeable grants totalling just under $25 million as part of the Council’s funding for long-term programmes. She receives $4,999,604 over five years.

Associate Professor Campbell says she and her colleagues in the research team are delighted to receive the grant which will enable them to do a lot of work because of the long-term certainty of funding.

"We couldn’t be happier. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to carry out this important work.

"The outcomes of this programme will ultimately provide valuable new knowledge on the forefront of basic research aimed at understanding Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and steroid hormone signalling in the female brain."

PCOS is a major endocrine disorder affecting about one in 10 women of reproductive age globally, and is one of the leading causes of infertility in women. Currently, there is no cure.

The team’s ground-breaking research has already discovered the important role the brain plays in PCOS. In April this year, Associate Professor Campbell’s research team published a study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight, showing that blocking androgen actions could help re-set reproductive function to normal levels by modifying brain circuitry important to fertility.

This new research funding will enable innovative scientific approaches to address how androgen excess is involved in the development of reproductive and metabolic impairments in PCOS. Although the work over the next five years is still pre-clinical, it will help build a picture about potentially effective therapies in treating the reproductive pathology of PCOS in women.

"Our hypothesis is that androgen excess is involved in establishing the syndrome and that long-term blockade of androgen actions can restore healthy brain structure and function to support healthy fertility and endocrine control," Associate Professor Campbell says.

She is joined by Associate Professor Christine Jasoni and Professor Greg Anderson, fellow principal investigators in the University’s Centre for Neuroendocrinology and Brain Health Research Centre and members of the Department of Anatomy. Associate Professor Jasoni is a developmental neurobiologist, who will determine how early androgen exposure impacts developmental brain wiring, while Professor Anderson is an expert in the metabolic control of fertility. He will be focused on understanding the interactions between androgen excess and the metabolic syndrome of PCOS.

Their team also includes Clinical Professor Inger Sundstrom-Poromaa at the University of Uppsala in Sweden, who will help them to understand how androgen blockade in women with PCOS impacts long-term reproductive and metabolic health.

University of Otago Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) Professor Richard Blaikie says it is wonderful to see the funding go towards research addressing an issue that affects so many New Zealand women and families.

"We are also pleased that the work involves strong international collaborations with Otago researchers so the results can be translated globally."

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