A team of St George’s, University of London researchers has won an award from a prestigious international endocrinology journal for publishing one of the best papers of the year. The study could pave the way for better treatment of women whose fertility has been affected by polycystic ovary syndrome.

The researchers – Dr Suman Rice, Dr Laura Pellatt, Stacey Bryan, Professor Saffron Whitehead and Professor Helen Mason – won an International Award for Publishing Excellence from The Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism (JCEM). The award was given to each of the top 14 papers published in JCEM in 2011. Professor Mason collected the award on behalf of the team at The Endocrine Society’s annual awards dinner in Houston in June.

The winning paper was called ‘Action of Metformin on the Insulin-Signaling Pathway and on Glucose Transport in Human Granulosa Cells’.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of infertility in women, and one of the most common endocrine disorders. Other symptoms include weight gain, acne, cardiovascular problems, hirsutism and diabetes.

A common feature of PCOS is resistance to the hormone insulin, linked with high levels of insulin. Metformin is a drug used to sensitise patients to insulin, improving glucose uptake into muscles, reducing insulin levels and therefore relieving symptoms. The paper showed for the first time that metformin can act locally in the ovary to affect the process by which insulin stimulates glucose uptake into the cells surrounding a developing egg. Metformin increases the number of protein carriers available to take glucose into the cells, which may encourage egg growth, in turn improving fertility.

“There was a lot of anecdotal evidence that women taking metformin had improved ovulation, so we wanted to examine if it had a specific effect on the ovaries,” said lead author Dr Rice. “What we discovered may now provide the basis to find a more targeted approach to using metformin.”

Dr Rice added that she was “over the moon and very proud” when the letter arrived informing the team of the award. The journal awarded the researchers a plaque and $1,000.

“PCOS can have a very detrimental effect on women’s lives, and the symptoms can reduce their confidence, added Dr Rice. “So we hope that our research goes some way to improving outcomes for women with PCOS.”

For more information about PCOS, go to the charity Verity’s website at www.verity-pcos.org.uk.