Woman, 29, welcomes baby girl after 'breakthrough' fertility study led by Derry scientist

Charlotte, 29, became pregnant shortly after taking part in the study
-Credit: (Image: Ulster University)


A woman in her 20s has welcomed a newborn baby girl into the world after taking part in a groundbreaking fertility study led by a Derry-based scientist.

The study found a novel link between a hormonal condition and an increase in the chances of pregnancy through surgery. One participant hailed the "life changing" impact as she became pregnant following the study and, late last year, welcomed her first daughter into the world.

The breakthrough study, led by leading obesity expert Professor Alex Miras, Professor of Endocrinology at the Ulster University's School of Medicine in Derry, focused on the hormonal condition polycistic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It found that women experiencing fertility challenges who are treated with weight-loss surgery have significantly enhanced chances of becoming pregnant, compared with those offered non-surgical medical interventions.

Read more: Gastric sleeve surgery: Family warn of risks after Derry woman died after 'starving' for 18 months

Read more: Magee expansion taskforce report won't 'sit on the shelf', insists Conor Murphy

Known to medics as bariatric surgery, the term encompasses several forms of surgical intervention including gastric sleeves, bands and other methods of reducing stomach size.

Charlotte, a 29-year-old from London who took part in the randomised trial from 2019 to 2023, was diagnosed with PCOS several years prior.

She had been told she would find it difficult to conceive due to irregular ovulation cycles.

But, after some apprehension, she underwent bariatric surgery as part of the trial in July 2021 and in late 2023 she welcomed her first daughter.

“When I was diagnosed with PCOS, I was told I would find it very difficult to conceive," she said. "That was a scary thought at the time and my cycles were so irregular I thought it wouldn’t change. After receiving a letter about the trial, I was very reluctant to have surgery, but was randomly selected to be in surgical group and the team supported me as I made that important decision. I went ahead with the surgery in July 2021, and it has absolutely changed my life. I have lost 85 lbs, my cycles are now every 28 days, and I have since welcomed my baby girl who is alert and clever and doing so well."

She added: "The trial has changed my eating habits, I now process hunger a lot differently, and the follow up appointments with the dietician have been really helpful. From a low point when I was diagnosed to welcoming my daughter last year, taking part in this trial has changed my life for the better.”

Professor Alex Miras at the Magee campus of Ulster University in Derry
Professor Alex Miras at the Magee campus of Ulster University in Derry -Credit:Martin McKeown

Ulster University say the Derry-led study represents "an international breakthrough in fertility research" and is the "first medical study to compare the treatment method of bariatric surgery with medical interventions for obesity, such as behavioural modification and weight loss medication, in women experiencing fertility challenges".

The most common hormonal disorder in women of reproductive age, women living with PCOS have a 15 times higher risk of not being able to conceive due to low ovulation levels, and a 2-3 times higher risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes than women without PCOS, the university said.

Specifically, the BAMBINI trial considered the large unmet clinical need for the management of obesity in women with PCOS, a condition that has a major negative effect on physical health and quality of life.

Previous observational studies have indicated that bariatric surgery could improve ovulation rates and prospects of fertility, however the BAMBINI trial is the first international study to compare the efficacy of bariatric surgery with medical treatments for obesity in a gold-standard randomised, multi-centre study.

Examining 80 women over the age of 18 who live with PCOS, participants were split into two groups, the first of which received medical treatments for obesity in the form of sessions with a dietician and prescribed medication often used for the treatment of PCOS (metformin and Orlistat). The second group underwent bariatric surgery (sleeve gastrectomy) with a standard multidisciplinary team follow-up in London and Coventry.

Over the year that followed, the surgical group was found to have a significantly higher rate of spontaneous ovulation, approximately 2.5 times greater than that of the medical group. This means that those who underwent bariatric surgery began producing eggs naturally following their treatment.

On completion of the comparative study, it was concluded that bariatric surgery was more effective than medical care for the induction of spontaneous ovulation in women with PCOS and could therefore enhance their prospects for fertility.

Completed in 2020 and 2021, the study also found that the women in the surgical group had healthier markers of heart or metabolic disease in the year that followed their surgery than the medical group, which could translate to less complicated pregnancies and reductions in the development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life, however further research will be required to confirm this theory.

The study titled 'Bariatric Surgery for Spontaneous Ovulation in women living with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome in the UK', the BAMBINI multicentre, open-label, randomised controlled trial was published in The Lancet medical journal.

Professor Alexander Miras, Clinical Professor of Medicine at the Ulster University School of Medicine in Derry, said: “We are pleased to bring the BAMBINI trial regarding women living with polycystic ovary syndrome to publication. As the first trial of its kind to compare bariatric surgery with medical treatments for obesity, and the first to examine its safety as an option, the results will help women with PCOS and healthcare professionals make better informed decisions about treatment.

"The treatment of obesity in this group of women is not cosmetic; it could have a life-changing impact. The same applies to many other complications of the disease of obesity. As we present our findings, we hope the results will impact outcomes in future and provide hope to women with PCOS and obesity who hope to one day have children.”

Tim Brundle, Director of Research and Impact at Ulster University, said: “At Ulster University, we are proud of the role our researchers play in transforming lives and ultimately improving people’s health. We are pleased to see the work

led by Professor Alex Miras to identify the link between bariatric surgery and improved fertility outcomes in women living with PCOS published in one of the most prestigious scientific journals. This breakthrough in fertility research is one that we hope will change the outcomes for many women who have experienced challenges when trying to conceive, or who are struggling with the effects of PCOS on their life.”

For all the latest news, visit the Belfast Live homepage here and sign up to our daily newsletter here.