A worm commonly used in scientific research, C. Elegans, might hold the secret to helping women to retain their ability to reproduce for a longer span of time and in a healthier manner. It is a sad fact of women’s lives that already by the time they are in their 30s they begin to show a marked decline in their reproductive ability. C. Elegans has this fact in common with women; and just like in women, the worm’s first sign of declining fertility is the lessening of the quality of eggs, rather than their quantity.
This decline in egg quality was found to be caused by the increased secretion of a protein called TGF-beta (transforming growth factor beta) as the worm ages. Amazingly, this very same protein occurs in women as well as in other mammals. In experiments conducted on worms that naturally produced lowered amounts of TGF-beta their reproductive ability was longer and the quality of the eggs remained high.
In women a decline in egg quality can mean an increase in birth defects such as Down syndrome and others. At the moment it is far from certain that the same effect that lowered TGF-beta has on worms will also apply to women, although tests on mice, which are at least also mammals, have shown a similar effect.
The hope is that perhaps one day women entering into their 30s who still want to have children, will be able to take a medication that will perhaps suppress the secretion of TGF-beta, this allowing the production of healthy eggs, which will hopefully lead to healthy babies.