Pregnancy After Pioneering Treatment for Early Menopause

Nancy A. Melville

April 12, 2021

A novel therapy combining platelet-rich plasma (PRP) with follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) that is injected directly into the ovaries has the potential to restore ovarian function for women who experience early menopause, possibly allowing for pregnancy without the need for donor eggs.

"The resumption of ovarian function in our participants means women with early menopause could have the opportunity to pursue pregnancy through IVF [in vitro fertilization] using their own eggs," the authors of the groundbreaking pilot study report.

In the small study, published online March 29 in Menopause, menstruation resumed within a mean of about 5 weeks for 11 of 12 patients with early menopause who were treated with the technique. One patient achieved a clinical pregnancy.

In commenting on the study, Stephanie S. Faubion, MD, medical director of the North American Menopause Society, was cautious in her interpretation, noting the need for more research in larger samples.

"Any pregnancy that results from a regenerative therapy is novel," she told Medscape Medical News. "Still, we are a long way away from this being a standard therapy for women with premature ovarian insufficiency."

Pilot Study: Platelet-Rich Plasma Combination With FSH

Early menopause is the cessation of ovarian function at or before the age of 45 years. It is estimated that 12.2% of women experience early menopause. For these women, currently, the only chance of becoming pregnant is with donor eggs.

PRP, an autologous plasma preparation containing more than 10 times the concentration of growth factors and active metabolites than normal plasma, has recently been shown to have the potential to restore the menstrual cycles in perimenopausal women, allowing IVF. It has also been shown to benefit women with premature ovarian insufficiency (POI). However, there have been few reports of pregnancies or live births.

Chao Chin Hsu, MD, PhD, of the National Taiwan University Hospital, in Taipei, and colleagues investigated whether the combination of the activated PRP treatment with gondatrophins such as FSH could provide a more robust effect so as to sufficiently stimulate follicles. They used the intraovarian injection of the combination to treat a 38-year-old woman with POI.

The effort was successful, and the woman gave birth to healthy twins.

To further evaluate the approach, the authors conducted a pilot study involving 12 women with early menopause (mean age, 44.4 years) between November 2018 and November 2019.

The women received intraovarian injection with PRP prepared from 40 mL of autologous peripheral blood combined with recombinant FSH.

Following the treatment, 11 of the 12 women experienced resumption of menstruation within a mean of 37 days. For seven patients, menstruation resumed within a month; for three, it resumed within about 2 months; and for one, it resumed after approximately 3 months.

Of note, the menstrual cycles were mostly irregular, with an interval of about 45.6 days.

The women's average serum FSH level dropped significantly from 70.5 IU/L at baseline to 26.2 IU/L within days of treatment, as did the average luteinizing hormone level (34.8 before and 14.3 IU/L after treatment), indicative of improved ovary function.

For six participants, 10 oocyte retrieval procedures were performed after a mean of about 2 months. Thirteen mature eggs were retrieved, and fertilization via intracytoplasmic sperm injection was attempted, resulting in 10 fertilized oocytes.

Cleavage-stage embryos were transferred into two of the participants. One achieved a clinical pregnancy, defined as a pregnancy that was confirmed by ultrasound and by the presence of a fetal heartbeat. The pregnancy ended in miscarriage at 7 weeks' gestation.

The length of controlled ovarian stimulation necessary for follicle growth ranged from 8 to 14 days, which the authors note is similar to that seen with women of normal reproductive age.

"Although the use of PRP in reproductive medicine is considered experimental, we demonstrated the restoration of ovarian function in early menopausal women who adopted whole dimension subcortical ovarian injection of PRP/gonadotropin," the authors write.

"Most remarkably, an early menopausal woman achieved pregnancy after the treatment followed by IVF with her mature ovulating follicle," they report.

Mechanisms, Caveats

The mechanisms thought to underlie the success of the approach include increases in ovarian vascularization and stromal cell proliferation and reductions in oxidative stress and cell death in ovaries, the authors explain.

Key caveats with the treatment include the fact that anesthesia and laparoscopy are required, and precise administration is required at 15 injection sites in 1–2 mm of the ovarian subcortical area, which can be difficult to achieve, Hsu told Medscape Medical News.

"If a new instrument could be developed in which physicians can carry out this treatment through a vaginal approach, like the transvaginal retrieval of eggs in IVF treatments," the approach could become more acceptable, Hsu added.

The authors call for studies with larger sample sizes and say it will also be interesting to determine effects in different groups, for example, women with cancer who have undergone chemotherapy.

Faubion, who is director of the Mayo Clinic Women's Health, Rochester, Minnesota, says the causes of early menopause could be important in determining the treatment's efficacy.

"[The therapy's] success may depend on the reason the woman experienced early menopause, for instance, due to chemotherapy, radiation, virus, autoimmune disease, genetic mutation, or other cause," she said.

She also noted that cost could be an important factor.

"I don't see a cost estimate, but it will be substantial," she said. "So, even if the success rate improves as this technique is further studied, cost and the invasive nature of the treatment may prove to be substantial barriers to this therapy becoming mainstream," she said.

The authors and Faubion have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Menopause. Published March 29, 2021. Abstract

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