06:02am Tuesday 26 September 2017

The birth of the biological clock

A successful collaboration between the Universities of St Andrews and Edinburgh has resulted in a better understanding of how many eggs a woman has in her ovaries (ovarian reserve) from conception to menopause.  It is the first time that scientists have ever modelled human ovarian reserve from establishment before birth to menopause around 50 years of age.

The new research, by Dr Tom Kelsey (St Andrews) and Dr Hamish Wallace (Edinburgh), provides further evidence for the theory that women are born with a fixed number of non-growing follicles (eggs) that decline with increasing age.

The study, using data from women in the UK, US and Europe, models the establishment and decline of the number of eggs in the ovary to its peak at about twenty weeks after conception, and its subsequent decline until menopause when no eggs are left usually around 50-51 years.

Tom Kelsey, a Senior Research Fellow at the School of Computer Science at St Andrews, said, “Previous models have looked at the decline in ovarian reserve, but not at the dynamics of ovarian reserve from conception onwards. Our model shows that for 95% of women, by the age of 30 years, only 12% of their maximum ovarian reserve is present, and by the age of 40 years only 3% remains. Using the model, Drs Kelsey and Wallace have identified several important new findings that are likely to inspire research.

Hamish Wallace, a consultant oncologist at Edinburgh¿s Royal Hospital for Sick Children, said,  “A better understanding of the dynamics of ovarian reserve will help us to predict which children and young people treated for cancer are most at risk of an early menopause. These patients may benefit from having their eggs frozen before cancer treatment starts.

“Furthermore our model provides no evidence for the presence of stem germ cells in the ovary that could increase the number of eggs present in the ovary and delay the menopause.”

The new study identifies an important but unexplained change in ovarian reserve dynamics at around 14 years of years.

Dr Kelsey explained, “At around 14 years, something happens that we’ve never seen before: the rate of recruitment of immature eggs towards mature eggs drops off and we don’t know why.  Of course at that age there are a lot of hormonal changes that might account for this new observation.” 

The research is funded by the Wallace-Kelsey Research Foundation Trust and is published by PLoS One: http://www.plosone.org/home.action

ENDS

NOTE TO EDITORS:

THE RESEARCHERS ARE AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW:

TOM KELSEY: 07564 530787

HAMISH WALLACE via Anna Borthwick, Press Officer, The University of Edinburgh on 0131 651 4400, 07791 355 886 or anna.borthwick@ed.ac.uk

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews
Contact Gayle Cook, Senior Communications Manager on 01334 467227 / 462529, mobile 07900 050 103, or email gec3@st-andrews.ac.uk  Ref:  Bioclock 240110


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