The search for the “God particle” is likely to keep scientists busy at CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) outside Geneva, this year. Whether the world’s mightest particle smasher will help humans understand the origin of the universe or engulf the planet, remains to be seen, but two discoveries announced last month can give half of humanity something to look forward to in 2010.
A gene test will make it possible for women to determine in their 20s if they are at risk of early menopause and declining fertility before hitting 35 years. This will help millions of women choose whether they want to start a family early on in their lives or freeze their eggs to increase the chances of conception in their thirties and forties.
All women are born with all the eggs they will ever produce. A woman has between one and two billion immature eggs (follicles), of which 400 mature and can be fertilised. Since the number of eggs falls sharply after the age of 35, the new test can be used to measure women’s ovarian reserves as markers of their fertility. The results can tell them when their biological clock will start winding down, making it a little more easy for women to plan when to have children.
This year also begins with the promise of the elusive “Female Viagra”, a drug to boost female libido. After years of research, including several disappointments that prompted researchers to conclude female sexuality was too complex to be cured with a simple pill, German firm Boehringer Ingelheim announced that their antidepressant drug Flibanserin used to treat “hypoactive sexual desire disorder” — medicalese for a persistent lack of sexual desire — can also treat sexual dysfunction in women.
The drug, however, is far from perfect. Its effect is slight (those on the drug reported satisfying sexual experience went up from 2.8 to 4.5 times a month) and the drug shows effect four weeks later. While Viagra and its variants have an immediate effect on ability to perform, they have no effect on desire.
With studies in the US and Europe indicating that 40 to 50 per cent women are dissatisfied with their sex life, the market for the drug is huge. And if its manufacturers manage to improve its performance while keeping the price down, women will have a lot to cheer about.