Coronavirus infection can affect ovarian function for at least a year and a half after having it, said molecular biologist and specialist in female fertility, Fernanda Parborell, based on studies carried out at the Institute of Biology and Experimental Medicine (Ibyme-Conicet). ), where it was also found that the Covid vaccines from AstraZeneca and Sputnik have no impact on fertility.

In early 2020, Parborell and his group were studying chemotherapy- and radiation-induced premature ovarian failure (POF) in cancer patients. The outbreak of the pandemic forced them to suspend that line of research, but they quickly redirected their efforts towards a question that few were asking at the time: what consequences could infection with the new virus have on fertility?

About this work, and about the importance of incorporating a gender perspective into science, the biologist and researcher spoke with Télam-Confiar.

Télam-Confiar: What facts defined your vocation for Biology?

Fernanda Parborell: I don’t come from a family with a scientific tradition. My mom was a teacher and my old Naval engineer. But they gave me my first microscope with which I discovered for the first time that there was a world invisible to my eyes. Then I became fascinated with (the oceanographer and documentalist) Jacques Cousteau and wanted to be a marine biologist. And luckily I had good science and biology teachers in high school. Already in the faculty (of Exact Sciences, at the UBA), I had the honor of studying Molecular Biology with Alberto Kornblihtt. He transmitted to me and to many, the passion for science

TC: At the beginning of this year, together with your team, you published a paper on the effects of Covid on female fertility. How was it carried out and what were the main findings?

FP: We started that study in May 2020. We wanted to assess the consequences of Covid on female fertility. We did not access public funds at that time because they were intended for issues considered more urgent. So we look for international funds. The pharmaceutical company Ferring was making a call and we presented a project, after agreeing with the team if they wanted to come to work in the midst of a pandemic.

Thirteen people worked, including doctors, biologists and researchers, and we made an agreement with four reproductive medicine clinics that provided us with the follicular fluid that accompanies the oocyte. They discard it but it is a great source of information. We took follicular fluid samples from recovered and healthy patients to measure the presence of IgG antibodies against the new virus. Thus, we observed that those with higher levels of antibodies had a lower number of mature oocytes. We also detected lower levels of a factor that is essential for the growth of blood vessels in the ovary. This tells us that SARS-CoV-2 infection negatively affects ovarian function.

TC: The Covid infection then can lead to infertility?

FP: It’s not that it causes sterility. What we are seeing is a decrease in ovarian function and we believe that it is transitory. This is relevant for those who are looking for a pregnancy. They may have to wait a few months. We are continuing the studies, with patients who have recovered between 9 and 18 months and we do not see any changes. But we did observe a recovery of the ovary a year and a half after the infection.

TC: Did you also investigate the effects of vaccines on female fertility? What did they find in these cases?

FP: We studied patients with two doses of the vaccines available to date: Sputnik and Astrazeneca, based on adenovirus platforms, and compared them with patients who had received Sinopharm, which is the inactivated whole virus; and with patients -better said with the follicular fluids- of unvaccinated patients. What we saw is that there was no difference in their ovarian function. In other words, vaccination does not interfere with the functions of the ovary or fertility.

TC: And what about the most modern vaccines, the messenger RNA ones?

FP: With those we couldn’t investigate because they arrived later in the country. But there is a very large study in Israel, which vaccinated its entire population with Pfizer, and found no sequelae in ovarian function. Our message is that you have to get vaccinated. All vaccines are safe.