The work could pave the way for women to one day have families even though they have gone through the menopause at an early age.
Premature ovarian failure affects 1% of women under the age of 40, with one in ten going through it under the age of 30. The normal age for menopause is at least 45.
Possible reasons include chromosome abnormalities, enzyme deficiencies and auto-immune diseases, where the body effectively turns on itself.
Today, scientists at the World Congress of Fertility and Sterility in Munich say their latest work on rats could offer hope for the future.
A team from Cairo University in Egypt used stem cells to restore ovarian function in a group of 60 female rats. The rats were divided into four groups during the experiment, with the first not given any treatment and acting as a control.
Rats in all of the other groups were treated with a chemical to stop their ovaries working, with those in the second group then given injections containing stem cells.
Group three was injected with a saline solution to act as a control, and the group four rats had ovarian failure but received no treatment.
The team of experts tested the hormone levels of all the rats to see if they returned to normal following treatment.
Within two weeks, the rats that had been treated with stem cells had regained full ovarian function.
After eight weeks, their hormone levels were the same as those of rats that did not have ovarian failure.
Professor Professor Osama Azmy, who led the study, said: “The treated ovaries returned to producing eggs and hormones, and we could detect the presence of the stem cells within the newly functioning ovaries.
“What we have done has proven that we can restore apparently fully-functioning ovaries in rats. The next step is to look how these rats might reproduce, and to characterise the chromosomes of offspring following treatment. This is proof of concept, and there is still a long way to go before we can apply this to women.
“Nevertheless, this work holds out the possibility that women with premature ovarian failure might be able to bear a baby of their own.”
Eddie O’Hara, chief executive of Ovarian – Let’s Shout For Linda, the first and only Scottish charity dedicated to ovarian cancer, welcomed the research and was encouraged by its findings.
He said; “It is good to see research like this being conducted because this is the only way we can find an answer to ovarian cancer, which is responsible for over a thousand deaths each year in Scotland. It may well be that stem-cell research holds the key.”