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Cows may offer clues to improving fertility in women

March 02, 2017

EAST LANSING, Mich. - A Michigan State University researcher has received a $1.65 million grant that looks to bring a better understanding about fertility treatments in women by studying the effect of hormones on ovulation and reproduction in cows.

"Cattle are a useful model because they have a relatively long reproductive cycle similar to women and they ovulate a single egg at the end of each cycle," said James Ireland, a professor of reproductive physiology. "Plus, a cow with a smaller egg reserve typically doesn't respond to fertility methods as well as cattle who have more eggs stored, a phenomenon women often experience too."

With funding from the National Institutes of Health and United States Department of Agriculture, Ireland will lead the five-year study with Keith Latham, co-director of the Reproductive and Developmental Sciences Program at MSU. Richard Leach, chair of MSU's Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, will also contribute to the project.

Although many fertility techniques used today have been developed using cows as a model, Ireland and his research team are the first to try and establish how increased doses of a certain fertility hormone given to women during in vitro fertilization can positively or negatively affect live birth rates.

Follicle stimulating hormone, or FSH, is produced by the pituitary gland and controls the ovaries in women and testes in men. It's essential for reproduction and physicians often use it to stimulate as many follicles as possible in a woman's ovaries, so a larger number of eggs can be recovered for IVF treatment.

Ireland said that evaluating the impact and mechanisms of excess FSH levels on ovarian function and egg quality could lead to developing better, assisted reproductive technologies in the future, something the team will also try to accomplish as part of its research.

According to 2014 data reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 33 percent of women who actually went through fertility treatments using their own eggs were able to get pregnant but only 27 percent had a live birth.

"If we can improve the fertility response rate of cows that have these small ovarian reserves, our findings could be useful for clinicians to use and may eventually lead to more successful pregnancies ending in live births in women," Ireland said.
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Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for more than 150 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.

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