Delaying menopause: Groundbreaking women’s health research underway

From hot flashes and mood shifts to more serious symptoms, menopause can be a challenging chapter for many women. Now, a Yale scientist hopes to re-calculate the average age of onset using a technique he developed decades ago for an entirely different reason.

Yale school of Medicine’s Dr Kutluk Oktay developed a procedure to preserve fertility for cancer patients

It’s called ovarian cryopreservation. An ovary — or portion of one — is removed and frozen prior to a patient’s cancer treatment, which can harm reproductive health. Years later, the tissue is re-implanted with the hope fertility is restored.

“When we saw the success of the procedure for medical indications, then we started thinking about applying this to healthy woman,” Oktay said.

He wants to harness the power of hormones produced by the body’s natural egg reserves to delay menopause in healthy, aging women.

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“A woman can transplant just enough to delay menopause for about 10 years, until about the age that menopause can naturally happen as a late menopause,” he said.

The average age of menopause is 51. Studies show pushing that number to 61 may have health benefits.

“The data from those studies show that these women have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s, anxiety, depression, cardiovascular diseases — there’s even data showing they live longer,” Oktay said.

Here’s how the experimental method works: In an outpatient procedure, an outside layer of the ovary is peeled away and frozen. Years later, preferably before the age of 40, the tissue is thawed and re-implanted in the patient’s body under the skin in the abdominal wall. With just the right amount of tissue, hormones continue to circulate in the body. Think of it like transdermal hormone therapy.

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“People say, ‘Menopause is a natural process, why are you fiddling with this?’ It’s not the menopause, it’s the complications that come with menopause,” Oktay said.

While critics question the purpose, Oktay says it comes down to quality of life.

“And we have to remember, women and people in general are living longer and longer, but the menopause age hasn’t changed,” he said. “Women spend more than a third of their life in menopause. They are quite healthy up until menopause and then they have to contend with all the complications.”

Women who are at higher risk for some cancers like breast cancer would not be a good fit for the procedure. For now, Oktay is working on mathematical models to help better determine benefits and risks and select the best patients.

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