Advancing fertility diagnostics and cancer screening

Emeritus Professor Nigel Groome

The work of Professor Nigel Groome in developing novel antibodies for diagnostic testing has enabled the medical profession to make great strides in reproductive medicine and in the fight against ovarian cancer.

Clinical diagnostic tools based on his antibodies have enabled millions of women across the world to make informed life decisions, such as freezing their eggs to give themselves a better chance of getting pregnant after chemotherapy for cancer treatment, or later in life.

They have improved diagnosis of a number of conditions causing male and female infertility, and helped identify the presence of ovarian cancer, improving treatment outcomes for patients.

Tailored fertility treatment

Ultrasound on pregnant woman

Around one in 10 couples globally is affected by fertility issues, and the numbers are increasing.

Successful treatments such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) rely on the accurate and reliable measurement of a protein called the anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH). Made by cells in the ovaries, where it controls the growth and proper functioning of the follicles that release a woman’s eggs, it is used globally to assess and monitor the reproductive potential of women, and to tailor their IVF treatment.

Antibodies and testing protocols developed by Nigel to measure AMH levels in blood serum have been incorporated into automated diagnostic tests that are used in routine clinical practice by healthcare providers in almost every country in the world. Offering accurate and reliable results in a matter of minutes, these highly-sensitive tests have reduced the potential for diagnostic errors and opened up opportunities to help more patients with targeted, timely interventions.

AMH levels, together with other factors, can also be used to assess women’s menopausal status, to check for some types of ovarian cancer, and to monitor the ovarian function of women with polycystic ovary syndrome. In boys, AMH testing is used to investigate abnormal sexual development and determine the best course of action to treat it.

Investigating male infertility

Male infertility is the sole reason for around 40% of fertility issues, but accurate diagnosis of the cause can enable effective interventions.

Another protein found in both women and men whose concentration in the body is an indicator of fertility is Inhibin B. Produced by cells in the testes and ovaries, higher levels of Inhibin B are associated with a higher sperm count and greater ovarian reserve.

A novel antibody and associated testing protocol developed by Nigel to detect levels of Inhibin B in blood serum is widely used by the NHS and other health providers around the world as a non-invasive means by which to determine the presence of sperm in the testes, enabling it to be used for fertility purposes.

In women undergoing fertility treatment, the levels of Inhibin B measured in a patient’s blood are considered alongside those of AMH and another hormone known as FSH (follicle stimulating hormone). Combining these readings to form a full picture of a woman’s reproductive health ensures a more predictable and likely successful pregnancy outcome for those undergoing treatment, and allows others to make life decisions pertaining to their fertility based on solid scientific evidence.

Lab samples

“AMH testing has been a huge advance in the field of reproductive medicine.”

Dr Sara Barton, Reproductive Endocrinologist, Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine

Enhanced screening for ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is the seventh most common cancer and the eighth most common cause of death from cancer among women worldwide.

Inhibin B levels are used to detect the presence of two types of ovarian tumours, shortening the time to diagnosis and thus improving a patient’s chance of successful treatment.

Hope for ME sufferers

The antibody developed by Nigel to detect Inhibin B may also be an indicator of myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or chronic fatigue syndrome. Studies using the antibody to detect levels of Activin B – a closely-related protein to Inhibin B – have found they are approximately doubled in patients with ME/CFS, offering, for the first time, hope of a reliable and accurate test to diagnose the condition and monitor effectiveness of treatment.

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