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27 November 2012
Eggs get Fountain of Youth treatment

In a promising development for older women trying to conceive, scientists from the University of Ottawa say the naturally occurring compound putrescine can dramatically improve the viability of eggs.

Putrescine is naturally produced in mammals by an enzyme called ornithine decarboxylase (ODC). In female mammals, ODC levels are known to rise during ovulation but ODC levels have been observed to rise very little in older females.

To explore this further, researcher Dr. Johné Liu gave older mice a mixture of putrescine and water in the period immediately leading up to and during ovulation. To his surprise, he found that the simple supplement reduced the incidence of defective eggs by more than 50 percent.

Presenting his findings in the journal Aging, Liu outlines how a simple program of drinking water or taking a pill that contains putrescine could reduce the rate at which middle-aged women produce eggs with the incorrect number of chromosomes (the leading cause of reduced fertility and increases in miscarriages and congenital birth defects).

"This is a remarkable outcome for such a simple approach," said Dr. Liu. "However, we could not have imagined this without first understanding the role that ODC and putrescine play in maintaining the chromosomal integrity of egg cells. While there is work to be done before it can be approved for clinical use, we feel this approach could be used for natural conception as well as in vitro fertilization."

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Source: Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

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