A small study has found that one day a hair sample may be used to measure levels of a fertility hormone in women, but further research is needed.
While just the starting point of further research, a study presented at the latest annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology has found promising evidence for a new method of fertility testing.
This small study of 152 women found “biologically relevant” levels of a fertility hormone in hair samples. If found to be effective, this could allow for a non-invasive test of ovarian reserves.
Anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) has become a key marker in the assessment of how women respond to fertility treatment. It is produced by small cells surrounding the egg as it develops in the ovary.
While studies have not correlated AMH levels to a reliable chance of a live birth, the hormone has become an important indicator in assessing how a patient will respond to ovarian stimulation for IVF.
Currently, this hormone is measured in serum from blood samples. However, testing on hair samples was found to be less invasive and a “more appropriate representation of hormone levels” than from an “acute” source such as serum.
In the study, AMH measured in serum from the same subjects was used to provide a control, as was an ultrasound count of developing follicles in the ovary (known as the antral follicle count, or AFC) as a further measure of ovarian reserve.
Questions that remain
The AMH levels detected in hair samples were found to decline with patient age and strongly correlated with both the serum levels and AFC.
Furthermore, the hair test detected a wide range of AMH levels within individuals of the same age cohort, suggesting greater accuracy than a single blood sample. “Hair is a medium that can accumulate biomarkers over several weeks, while serum is an acute matrix representing only current levels,” the researchers wrote.
One of those researchers, PhD student Sarthak Sawarkar, added that this discovery “may allow a better understanding of an individual’s hormone levels, unlike blood-based assays, which can only measure the hormone at the moment of the testing”.
Speaking with The Times, Tim Child, director of Oxford Fertility, who was not involved in the study, said its findings are “very interesting”. However, Child added that it remains to be seen whether AMH levels in hair correlate to the ovarian response and number of eggs collected during an IVF cycle.
“This is not examined in this study. If the correlation is poor then hair samples will be of no benefit,” he said.
“If the correlation is as good as, or perhaps even better than with blood AMH, then this technique promises to further simplify the fertility treatment process for women and will be an exciting development.”