In March 2009, British scientists carrying out hormone research published exciting results which may offer new hope to infertile women around the world. These scientists are certain that the sex hormone kisspeptin, present in all healthy men and women, can restart the female reproductive system in women who have stopped ovulating due to an imbalance in their sex hormones. Kisspeptin is therefore a potential basis for a new infertility treatment. Although only relatively recently discovered by scientists, the kisspeptin hormone has been present in humans ever since people came into existence. In 1999, the kisspeptin hormone and its blueprint gene, KISS-1 were discovered by scientists based in Hershey in the state of Pennsylvania, in the United States. The hormone was named after the city’s most well-know product, Hershey Kiss chocolates. In 2003, scientists realised the crucial role played by kisspeptin in the onset of puberty in animals and humans, when researchers discovered that animals lacking the hormone did not enter sexual maturity.
Kisspeptin And Fertility
At Imperial College London, Endocrinologist Consultant Dr Waljit Phillo has been leading a study into kisspeptin’s influence on human fertility. He thinks he has made the first important step in developing an effective but less risky fertility treatment for women.
In his first study, Dr Phillo injected kisspeptin hormone into fertile women. Even in fertile women, the kisspeptin increased the body’s production of two important sex hormones which play a vital role in reproduction: follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH – this hormone encourages follicles in the ovaries to grow; each follicle produces an ovum) and luteinizing hormone (LH – this hormone triggers ovulation, namely, the release of the ovum from the ovary and into the fallopian tubes, where the ovum can be fertilised by sperm).
In the second stage of his study, Dr Phillo and his researchers worked with 10 infertile women whose periods had ceased due to an imbalance in their hormones. Dr Phillo gave the kisspeptin hormone to some of the women and a placebo to the others. Blood samples were taken from the women and checked for levels of FSH and LH. Dr Phillo found that kisspeptin had the same effect on the sex hormones of the infertile women as it did on those of the fertile women, only more so. After treatment with kisspeptin, the levels of LH and FSH in the infertile women were four times greater than the levels of these hormones found in the fertile women.
Also, comparisons were made between the infertile women who had been treated with the placebo and those who had really received kisspeptin. The level of LH was 48 times higher in the women who had taken kisspeptin than in the women who had taken the placebo. The FSH level was 16 times higher in the women who had taken kisspeptin than in the women who had taken the placebo.
According to Dr Phillo, the results of his research show that kisspeptin hormone could be developed into a form of fertility treatment which would restart the reproductive systems of infertile women. He says that the further work of his group will be focused in this direction. The hormone is currently administered as an injection. Dr Phillo says that drug companies are working on the development of a tablet.
Dr Phillo believes kisspeptin fertility treatment is potentially less risky than conventional fertility therapies. This is because conventional therapies focus on direct stimulation of the ovaries to help women get pregnant, rather than addressing the hormonal imbalance which is the root cause (in some women) of infertility. Ovary stimulation can result in multiple pregnancy because the ovaries release more than one egg. Carrying twins or triplets is more risky for both mother and babies than carrying one baby.
Who Is A Candidate?
Kisspeptin will not help every infertile woman, because women suffer from infertility for many different reasons. Dr Phillo says that approximately 10 % of women who are registered at fertility clinics in the UK are infertile due to a hormone imbalance. It is these women at whom the future treatment would be targeted. In the meantime, Dr Phillo’s research continues…