Experts from Durham University have identified a brand new gene that could lead to a breakthrough in fertility treatments for those desperately hoping to start a family.
Dr. Adam Benham, a senior lecturer at the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, discovered the gene, known as 'PDILT', by general curiosity.
"We were interested in this gene family and we found a new member of this family. We found out that it was made into a protein, and then we found out that this protein was only expressed in the testes", said Dr. Benham, who later teamed with researchers from Asia to carry out vital, inital testing.
"We collaborated with scientists in Osaka in Japan and we made a mouse model to find out that this gene was then essential for infertility."
"We have to now find out that this is still the case in humans. So we will collaborate with clinicians and colleages in other universities in the UK to drive this forward into the clinic."
Dr. Benham and his students discovered the gene's impact on fertility after it was 'switched off' in male mice undergoing tests, during which less than 3% of female eggs were fertilised, compared to the 80% success rate when 'PDILT' was present. He says he hopes that after further developments, the protein can be used to help humans conceive children through IVF.
"Often IVF doesn't always work. In sometimes two thirds of the cases, IVF is not successful. So if we can find new genes or proteins that are involved in fertility, we can hopefully develop better techniques and better IVF treatments that can help these sorts of couples."
Nine IVF centres treated over 6,000 women in our region in 2010. However, recent statistics devised by the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) show that the average age of patients has risen to 35 - when female fertility drastically descends. It is hoped that these new fertility methods will be successful when applied to humans.