Up to one in five women worldwide suffer from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and must juggle various treatments that take care of the symptoms but not the cause, which is unknown.
UNSW researchers now have an understanding of a new mechanism underlying PCOS, which causes hormonal, reproductive and metabolic illnesses.
Their findings could provide researchers with a new direction to develop treatments for the condition.
Dr Kirsty Walters of the School of Women’s and Children’s Health is lead author of a paper published in the journal PNAS, which clears up the confusion about whether PCOS does in fact originate in the ovary or elsewhere. The work on animal models was conducted at the ANZAC Research Institute.
Dr Walters found that androgens – or steroid hormones – in the brain play an unexpected but crucial role in the development of PCOS.
“For the first time we have a new direction of where we should be looking to try and develop treatments that will treat the cause of PCOS, which is the androgen excess in the brain as well as the ovary," she says.
Women with PCOS have difficulty ovulating and develop large cysts in their ovaries. They have irregular hormonal function and can suffer infertility, which usually means they turn to IVF in order to conceive, which is invasive and expensive.
Along with these reproductive issues, the majority of women with PCOS also have obesity, a high risk of Type 2 diabetes and risk of cardiovascular disease.
Many women with the condition seek medical support to deal with unwanted hair growth on the face and chest. Women with PCOS also suffer depression and poor quality of life.
Currently, women diagnosed with PCOS can only be treated for these symptoms.