Preserving fertility for boys with cancer

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Scientists have made great progress in finding a way to preserve the fertility in young boys who undergo chemotherapy as a medical treatment and risk future infertility. This is a particularly difficult problem for boys who are not sexually mature and cannot bank sperm. Because many of these children are now surviving their illness due to advanced treatment, close to 80% are reaching adulthood with fertility problems.

Freezing testicular tissue

The goal is to freeze testicular tissue so that when the boys reach adulthood, spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) in the tissue can be reproduced in the lab and transplanted back into the boys. These are the cells ultimately responsible for sperm production.

But what if cancer cells are present in testicular tissue

“Our study addressed an important safety issue – whether cancer cells that might be present in testicular tissue samples can survive the process to replicate the sperm-producing stem cells,” explained lead author Hooman Sadri-Ardekani, MD, PhD, an instructor in urology and regenerative medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “This is an important consideration because of the potential to reintroduce cancer into the patient. The research which involved one of the most common childhood cancers, shows that the cancer cells were eliminated. Based on these findings, we recommend that all boys with cancer be offered the option of storing testicular tissue for possible future clinical use.”

Cancer cells cannot withstand the process for reproducing SSCs

This research effort used acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) cells implanted into SSC samples. Up to 30% of boys with this type of cancer had cancer cells in their testicular tissue. The approach of Dr. Sadri-Ardekani was to investigate whether cancer cells would survive the laboratory protocol developed to reproduce SSCs from a small tissue biopsy. The process multiplies SSCs by 18,000 fold to create enough for a transfer back into the patient. Even when the ALL cells made up 40% of the tested sample, they were completely eliminated in 26 days of culture.

“This pilot study showed that the culture system not only allowed for efficient propagation of sperm stem cells, but also eliminated ALL cells,” said Sadri-Ardekano. Additional research will be needed before this type of procedure can be done on humans, however, preserving reproductive tissue now for advances in the future is advisable.

Source: MedicalNewsToday, Fertility and Sterility
Photo by Greg Westfall at


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