An almost $5 million grant will be used to find out more about the role of hormone brain signals and excess androgen in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – one of the leading causes of female infertility.

A University of Otago research team led by Associate Professor Rebecca Campbell from the University’s Centre for Neuroendocrinology, Brain Health Research Centre, and Department of Physiology is one of five teams to receive a five year funding grants from the Health Research Council.

Associate Professor Campbell says her team was delighted to receive the grant and outcomes of the research would ultimately provide valuable new knowledge on understanding Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and steroid hormone signalling in the female brain.

PCOS is a major endocrine disorder affecting about one in 10 women of reproductive age globally, and is one of the leading causes of infertility in women. Currently PCOS can be managed but not cured.

The team’s ground-breaking research into the important role the brain plays in PCOS was published in April in the Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight and showed that blocking androgen actions could help ‘re-set’ reproductive function to normal levels by modifying brain circuitry important to fertility.

The new research funding would be used to look at ways to address how androgen excess is involved in the development of reproductive and metabolic impairments in PCOS. The work is not at the stage of clinical tests but aims to help build a picture about potentially effective therapies in treating the fertility issues facing many women with PCOS.

“Our hypothesis is that androgen excess is involved in establishing the syndrome and that long-term blockade of androgen actions can restore healthy brain structure and function to support healthy fertility and endocrine control,” said Campbell.

Other researcher team members include developmental neurobiologist Associate Professor Christine Jasoni who will determine how early androgen exposure impacts developmental brain wiring, while Professor Greg Anderson, an expert in the metabolic control of fertility will focus on understanding the interactions between androgen excess and the metabolic syndrome of PCOS.

Their team also includes Clinical Professor Inger Sundstrom-Poromaa at the University of Uppsala in Sweden, who will help them to understand how androgen blockade in women with PCOS impacts long-term reproductive and metabolic health.

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