August 4, 2016

14 million – that’s how many women in the United States suffer from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a crippling disease that that increases  risk of endometrial cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, asthma, obesity, depression and anxiety. Women with PCOS also experience infertility and a variety of reproductive disorders, resulting in heartbreak for millions of American families.

“With so many different symptoms, it took a long time for physicians to identify the disease as more than infertility,” explains Dr. David Abbott, professor of OB/GYN at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health who has studied the origins of PCOS at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center for nearly 30 years.

Yet, despite its widespread reach, PCOS has long stumped scientists. That’s why researchers from the California and Wisconsin National Primate Research Centers, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and University of California-Los Angeles combined forces to search for causes, preventions, treatments and cures for PCOS.

Each scientist’s decades of experience and research came together in a comprehensive review of 114 articles reporting different PCOS biomarkers. The review also covers overall progress in improving the lives of PCOS patients, including better counseling, managed care and new directions in genetic testing.

For example, a recent study from the Wisconsin NPRC examines testosterone levels in the hair of newborn monkeys. The results reveal that, while PCOS symptoms may not appear until puberty, the disease might actually be programmed in the fetus during the second trimester of pregnancy. Such tests in human infants will allow medical professionals to identify and ameliorate PCOS before onset. Knowledge of its genetic origins and that PCOS may be programmed during intrauterine life allows scientists to explore how the maternal-fetal environment affects female health over generations.

Even after 30 years of continuous research, scientists like David Abbott anticipate much more discovery in the field of PCOS. He notes that, “today, thanks to researchers and doctors working together on all aspects of this problem, many more clinicians cross-refer to one another, and catch more of the specific pathologies that can lead to a PCOS diagnosis and better care.

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