In the new study, doctors at Imperial College have discovered that the hormone kisspeptin (formerly known as metastin) naturally stimulates a woman's eggs without the danger of "over-stimulation" that usually occurs with the current drug used in IVF, which is hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin).
Kisspeptin works by inducing the release of a hormone in a woman's body that acts as a trigger for the eggs to be harvested after it has stimulated the ovaries to produce them. On the other hand, the hCG drug acts directly on the ovaries, but has a tendency to overstimulate them.
The hCG drug induces moderate to severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), which is characterized by swelling of a woman’s egg sacs to more than twice their size, according to experts. One in 10 women suffer from OHSS caused by hCG.
Additionally, OHSS produces toxins that cause excessive fluid buildup in the abdomen, or around the lungs and heart, which can be severely painful. Opting for the kisspeptin treatment has been found to cause very few cases of OHSS, which makes it a less daunting alternative.
According to lead author Dr. Ali Abbara: "Kisspeptin works naturally in the body to produce the hormones for a woman to grow the eggs she needs to become pregnant.
"Unlike the most commonly used drug, kisspeptin is much safer with regards the risk of a dangerous complication of IVF termed Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome, which can risk the well-being of otherwise healthy women."
In this latest study, only one case of moderate early OHSS and one case of mild late OHSS have been reported out of the 60 women who chose the kisspeptin treatment.
At present, women at risk of OHSS are given a synthetic version of the natural hormone GnRH (Gonadotrophin-releasing hormone), but this is thought to cut pregnancy rates by failing to produce the required hormones to support a baby.
On the other hand, the percentage of women producing their target number of eggs has risen from 45 percent to 71 percent thanks to the kisspeptin treatment.
"Kisspeptin offers a novel avenue for improving the efficacy of IVF treatment without endangering a woman’s health," said Dr. Abbara.
Besides OHSS, there are several other health risks associated with IVF. Some of these are:
British researchers first identified kisspeptin in 2003, but the gene was discovered back in 1996 in the town of Hershey, which is home to the popular brand of chocolate.
Its unusual name was derived from the gene KISS1, which controls the production of the hormone. Kisspeptin is produced by the hypothalamus region of the brain and is now the subject of several clinical trials across the world.
Besides offering a safer form of IVF, previous studies have suggested that kisspeptin could help prevent miscarriage in women, as well as treat delayed puberty in boys.
Read more about scientific studies concerning women's health at Research.news.