Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) is a clinical syndrome defined by loss of ovarian activity before the age of 40 years. It is also known by the term premature menopause and can be characterised by menstrual disturbance with raised gonadotropins and low estradiol. While incidence of POI depends on ethnicity, generally the risk is 1 in 1000 at age 30 and 1 in 100 at age 40.
The consequences of POI are unfortunately long term and severe including:
- Cognitive dysfunction
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Autoimmune diseases
- Increased mortality
Presenting on the final day of COGI 2018, Prof. Claus Andersen explained that there is a key focus on providing women with POI the option of fertility preservation. So, what are the available treatments?
Approaches for fertility preservation
In order to plan the most effective fertility preservation treatment, Prof. Andersen stressed that it is important to predict as much as possible whether POI may be imminent. How can we do this? Well, often the condition is hereditary. In fact, Prof. Andersen suggested that around 10-15% of women with POI would have a first degree relative who has been affected. Similarly, if a woman has a mother or older sister affected this leads to an approximately 6x higher risk.
There are many more available options for treating women with imminent POI than confirmed POI. Therefore, it is essential women are informed about symptoms and risks. It is also essential that health care professionals understand this increased risk and consider it when diagnosing a potential case.
At COGI we were shown data suggesting that a quarter of women waited over five years for a correct diagnosis, with over half seeing more than three clinicians. Unfortunately, there is no definitive test for predicting POI, however we can hope that this could be developed in future.
For women with imminent POI, Prof. Andersen discussed three main first line approaches:
- Vitrification of oocytes or embryos following ovarian stimulation
- Freezing ovarian tissue
- A combination of oocyte and ovarian tissue freezing
For those with confirmed POI, treatment is more complex. In some cases, sufferers may experience spontaneous pregnancy. One study of 358 women revealed that a cumulative pregnancy rate of 4.3% at 48 months.
However the alternative is a procedure called in vitro follicle activation (IVA). This involves the removal of an ovary, the preparation of cortical tissue recruiting dormant primordial follicles, freezing and thawing before transplantation back into the POI sufferer. Research is still be undertaken into IVA. However, with refinement and improvement it could lead to a new effective strategy for POI patients to conceive their own genetic children.
 M. Bidet, A. Bachelot, E. Bissauge et al. Resumption of Ovarian Function and Pregnancies in 358 Patients With Premature Ovarian Failure. Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey: 2012. 67(4). 231–232. doi: 10.1097/OGX.0b013e3182502238
 Kawamura K, Kawamura N, Hsueh AJ. Activation of dormant follicles: a new treatment for premature ovarian failure?. Curr Opin Obstet Gynecol. 2016;28(3):217-22.