The Centre for Research Excellence in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (CRE in PCOS) has a number of research groups dedicated to the study of the biological origins, aetiology and pathology of PCOS. This is an extremely important area of research. Professor Ray Rodgers explains what he and his colleagues are up to.
PCOS was identified more than 80 years ago and yet we do not know the cause(s) of PCOS; so treating PCOS or much less preventing it are suboptimal, to say the least. Identifying the cause(s) of PCOS is important as it will allow us to design better diagnostic tools, better treatments and even approaches to prevent it. This would radically improve the lives of women with PCOS.
Professor Ray Rodgers is a Lloyd Cox Research Fellow at the Robinson Research Institute of the University of Adelaide. His research team is focusing on linking the key causes of PCOS that we know about, namely its genetic origins and a predisposition to developing PCOS in later life that begins during the fetal or neonatal periods of early life. They developed a new hypothesis on the role of one specific gene related to PCOS interacting with the fetal ovary thereby finding a connection between the fetal origins and the genetic causes of PCOS. Importantly they found that this gene might affect the development of stromal cells in the ovary, which may contribute to the altered structure of the PCOS ovary in later life. Recently, research driven by PhD student Monica Hartanti has characterised when the ovarian stromal cells expands during development, and examined all the candidate genes related to PCOS in that process.
Nigel Stepto is Associate Professor of Clinical Exercise Science at the University of Victoria and works closely with Professor Helena Teede of Monash University in the role of exercise to control symptoms of PCOS. Recently in collaboration with Professor Ray Rodgers they have examined the muscle structure in women with PCOS using genetic approaches. Excitingly it appears that the muscle structure may also be altered similarly to the way the ovary in PCOS women is altered with more stromal cells.
Dr Kirsty Walters is a Senior Lecturer in Women’s and Children’s Health at the University of New SouthWales. She is leading a team of researchers who have been carrying out research focusing on the biological origins of PCOS, in particular the role of androgen excess in the development of PCOS. They identified that this syndrome may start in the brain and not the ovaries as has long been assumed. Using animal models they found that excess levels of androgens can replicate features of human PCOS, and importantly by silencing the action of androgens in the brain the majority of the features of PCOS did not arise. These findings allow us to now start to understand what actually causes PCOS. By identifying the mechanisms that underpin the development of PCOS, they hope that in the future treatments will be developed that treat the cause of PCOS rather than just the symptoms.