Scientists have identified a hormone that could help prepare the womb lining for pregnancy, an advance that could help develop treatments to improve fertility in older women.
The hormone known as Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), also known as androstenolone, is an endogenous steroid hormone which decline significantly with age.
The treatment with DHEA helps prime cells for implantation – a vital stage in early pregnancy when a fertilised egg attaches to the womb lining.
It also increased the production of active androgens suggesting that these could underlie the improvement, the findings showed.
Androgens (also considered as a steroid) such as testosterone are known to promote male characteristic traits and reproductive activity.
“A fertilised egg will implant only if the conditions are just right and we were excited to see that DHEA and androgens might help improve this environment in cells,” said lead author Douglas Gibson, from the University of Edinburgh.
“The findings will help us develop studies for potential therapies but more research is needed before we can tell if this approach could be used to help women who are struggling to conceive,” Gibson added.
For the study, published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, the team tested tissue from women aged in their forties.
They found that treating womb lining cells with DHEA in a dish doubled the level of key proteins associated with healthy implantation in the tissue.
However, they cautioned that it is too early to say if treatments could help women with fertility issues.
“The research may be in its early stages, but it’s worthwhile because it lays the groundwork to uncovering potential treatments down the road to help women trying to conceive,” said Stephen Meader from the varsity.