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Health Check: Reproductive disease passed from mother to daughter

New research shows one of the leading causes of infertility may be passed down from mother to daughter. (WJAR)

New research shows one of the leading causes of infertility may be passed down from mother to daughter.

For doctors who treat women with polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, this new research from Northwestern University may help lead to earlier interventions

Dr. Ruben Alvero is the director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Women and Infants Hospital. Many of the women he treats here have PCOS.

"Polycystic ovary syndrome is the most common endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age," said Alvero.

This disease affects about 5 million women.

"It can be associated with infertility because these women also tend not to ovulate as predictably or as regularly as we would like them to," Alvero said.

And it can lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The problem is, it can't be diagnosed until after puberty. But it's long been suspected there's a strong genetic link. So scientists at Northwestern University set out to prove that, and find the primary driver of the disease.

"This is among the first studies that has actually looked at and found a very specific single gene that may be predictive and also causing the PCOS in these women," said Alvero. "These were 1- to 3-year-olds that were tested."

The researchers tested babies of women with PCOS and compared them to babies of women who did not have the disease.

"This study actually showed that not only do they have high testosterone levels but they also have a predisposition for the kind of hormone or enzyme, in this case, that causes the testosterone to become a dihydrotestosterone, which is the most powerful testosterone that we see," said Alvero.

The significance of this finding is to develop early treatment, even prevention if it's caught early enough, especially because this metabolic disorder can have long-term health risks beyond infertility.

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