Targeting Fat Eggs

Healthy Embryos

It has long been known that obesity has an effect on female infertility; however, a University of Adelaide researcher has now uncovered scientific proof that obesity affects a woman's eggs. This study, which employed the use of female mice, was headed up by PhD candidate Cadence Minge at the University of Adelaide's Research Centre for Reproductive Health. Of particular note is Minge's discovery of a technique that can reverse the effects of obesity on mouse eggs which in turn enables "fat" eggs to develop into healthy embryos.

Damaged Goods

Minge explains that the consumption of foods which are high in fat causes damage to eggs stored in the female ovaries. The result is eggs which are incapable of developing into normal embryos. The researcher discovered a protein in the cells that surrounds, supports, and nourishes eggs. This protein, called Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor gamma (PPARγ) is the prime cause of diet-induced infertility. It is the behavior of this protein that legislates the ways in which ovaries can sense and respond to dietary fats.

Minge found that an anti-diabetes drug called rosiglitazone, marketed as Avandia by GlaxoSmithKline, can target this protein, reversing the effects of obesity on egg quality. The drug, in effect, switches on the protein, which can then change the way the ovaries react to fats. The ability to control the protein is a very important piece in the puzzle of how to reverse infertility caused by poor diet. Once the protein can work its magic, embryo development rates are restored with cell differentiation in the early embryo much improved. The long-term results are increased birth weights and an improved chance for full-term pregnancies.

Ms. Minge has been quick to caution that Avandia not be seen as a quick-fix for female infertility. While the study's findings have a great impact on our understanding of egg maturation within the ovary, research has thus far been carried out on mice only. The drug may have harmful side-effects and this too needs to be investigated. It's possible that scientists will concentrate on finding other ways to activate the protein.

More research can lead to the identification of other critical cellular controls for egg quality. This would allow women the chance to maximize the likelihood of conceiving a healthier fetus.

Meantime, Minge believes her findings underpin the importance of a healthy lifestyle for women wishing to conceive without resorting to medical science. Says Minge, "Despite the wide-ranging recognized health risks associated with excessive body weight, Australia's waistline continues to expand. Currently, Australia is on par with heavyweight nations such as the US and the UK, with approximately 60% of Australian adults now overweight or obese."

Minge hopes that her findings will encourage people to consider the long-term impact of their lifestyle choices on their quality of life.

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