Delaying motherhood has become a popular topic as stories about egg freezing parties and the downsides of the procedure hit the news cycle. But the latest research suggests there could be a better alternative to help women prolong their childbearing years.

A team from Massachusetts General Hospital found that naturally occurring hormone Mullerian Inhibiting Substance, or MIS, could prevent ovary damage from chemotherapy drugs, and potentially aide in other fertility uses too. In a test using female mice, the researchers found that MIS stopped the process of egg maturity in ovarian follicles.

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“MIS has long been suspected as an inhibitor of the initial stages of follicular development, but the complete blockade of the process was unexpected and opened up a number of new applications for the hormone,” says co-author David Pepin, PhD, in a statement.

While ovarian suppression isn’t a new concept, using MIS to keep follicles in the early primordial stage is an unexplored possibility.

During the experiment, Pepin and his team gave lab mice daily injections of the MIS hormone. After several weeks they noticed a significant decrease in the number of mature ovary follicles, but a consistent level of those early primordial follicles.

Chemotherapy drugs often hinder fertility by activating the primordial follicles and depleting the ovarian reserve more quickly. This technique essentially puts eggs into hibernation mode and could potentially be used for contraceptives or to prolong fertility, reports Live Science. The process is reversible, and eggs can follow their natural course once hormone treatments are stopped.

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The results are promising for female cancer patients as well as those hoping to delay childbirth, but doctors have much more to uncover before this becomes a viable fertility treatment.

“We have just begun to scratch the surface of the implications of MIS for reproductive and overall health,” says Pepin, who is an assistant professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School (HMS).

"Maybe you maintain the egg numbers," Pepin told Live Science. "You have an ovary that looks young, but the quality of eggs may not be as good."

Other than medical concerns, there’s another big reason to prolong fertility. Women now outrank men on college campuses, and many are choosing to further their careers before pursuing parenthood. As previously reported in Time, about 5,000 women chose to freeze their eggs in 2013 — a huge jump from the 500 in 2009. EggBanxx, a network of fertility clinics, estimates that 76,000 women will elect this by 2018, reports Time. Of course, the procedure doesn’t come cheap. An NPR report estimates roughly $10,000 for the treatment, plus the cost of drugs and annual fees.

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