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Sperm Restoration Promises Fertility For Youth And Adult Cancer Patients

Science Daily,  Nov 1, 2012

November 1, 2012

Sperm producing stem cells show potential for restoring post-cancer fertility according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the Magee-Womens Research Institute. Their findings in a primate study, published in Cell Stem Cell, show that an injection of previously frozen stem cells not only restore sperm production, but also fertilize eggs successfully.

Many cancer treatments compromise fertility by destroying rapidly dividing cells. While they are meant to target cancer cells, there is no discrimination on the cellular level. Other cells involved in sperm production are destroyed as well.

Kyle Orwig, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Medicine, Pitt School of Medicine, and Investigator at Magee-Womens Research Institute says: "Men can bank sperm before they have cancer treatment if they hope to have biological children later in their lives, but that is not an option for young boys who haven't gone through puberty, can't provide a sperm sample, and are many years away from thinking about having babies." However, young boys have stem cells in their testicular tissue geared to produce sperm once they hit puberty.

To test the potential for fertility restoration, Dr. Orwig’s team biopsied and frozen testicular cells in monkeys, then administered chemotherapy treatment. Several months later, the frozen stem cells were thawed and injected back into the testes. Nine out of 12 adult monkeys and 3 out of 5 youth achieved sperm production after the transplant.

This comes at a time of discovery in the area of fertility preservation for young girls about to endure cancer treatment as well. All of these efforts are backed by the prospect of successful pregnancy and biological children once these youth reach their reproductive years.

"These patients and their families are the pioneers that inspire our research and help drive the development of new medical breakthroughs," Orwig said. He directs the Fertility Preservation Program in Pittsburgh offers education and treatment for children and adults facing infertility as a result of cancer therapies.

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