Substance Released by Plastic May Play Part in Extending Fertility, Israeli Research Finds

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The stress-inducing tests included being held overnight in a cage filled with wet sawdust, in one case, and in another, being forced to swim.Credit: AP

A substance released from everyday plastic products has been shown to dramatically delay the aging of ovaries in rats, according to new Israeli research. The experiment, which took place at Beilinson Hospital, Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva, was reported at a recent conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.

“The results of the research are surprising and ground-breaking. This is the first time the aging of ovaries in mammals has been significantly delayed by outside means,” said Dr. Yoel Shufaro, deputy director of the Fertility and IVF Unit at Beilinson.

Shufaro told Haaretz that the research was preliminary, but the goal was to explore how the substance, known as NP10, operates so that in the future a therapy could be developed to delay the aging of ovaries in women.

NP10 is released from plastic products and detergents like laundry powder and softener and dishwasher soap, and is considered a contaminant. “This material is quite common in our environment as a contaminant. Every time you open a bottle of water or come into contact with plastic you are exposed to it,” Shufaro said.

Shufaro said that in laboratory cultures studying the effects of NP10 on cells it was found that NP10 damages breathing processes in cells, and in fact hinders the process of energy development of cells by harming certain enzymes.

In the research project, Shufaro and Dr. Ann Saada Reisch, of the Genetics and Metabolic Diseases Laboratory at Hadassah University Hospital are examining how the impact of this contaminant prevents the aging of the ovaries. Such aging causes a decline in the quantity of follicles in the ovaries and in the quantity of eggs.

The month-long experiment was carried out on rats at an age parallel to that of women aged 15–35. The researchers exposed one group of rats to NP10, which was added to their drinking water, and prevented a control group of rats from coming into contact with NP10. When the rats in both groups were given hormonal stimulation, the rats exposed to the NP10 produced twice as many eggs and fetuses as the control group.

“When we examined their ovaries, we discovered that the quantity of follicles in the rats exposed to the material was also double that of the control group,” Shufaro said.

Shufaro stressed that the contaminant NP10 could never be used as a therapeutic drug itself. However, if continued research can discover the biological mechanism behind this outcome, “it is possible that in the future a material will be found that will allow 45-year-old women to have ovaries that function like those of 35-year-old women.”

Finding a component of plastic that contributes to health is rare. In January 2013, a group of researchers from the United States and Israel reported that exposure to the chemical Bisphenol A, found in polycarbonate plastics, damages human eggs and could impair female fertility.

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