Boys to Men
Felicity Carlysle reports a new experimental treatment that may make having a family possible for childhood cancer survivors.
Cancer treatments often result in a loss of fertility for both men and women. While men can freeze sperm samples prior to commencing treatment, this is not an option for boys who have not yet begun producing sperm. However, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh may have found a solution – “spermatogonial” stem cells. These are the cells that will eventually produce sperm when boys reach puberty, and research with rhesus macaques suggests that they could be used to restore fertility. Samples of these sperm stem cells were removed and frozen, then re-injected following the macaques undergoing chemotherapy. In three quarters of the adult macaques tested sperm production was re-established and in over half of the prepubescent animals sperm production began normally upon reaching puberty. Furthermore, the sperm produced were used to fertilise eggs and resulted in healthy embryos. While the results are very positive, there are concerns that implanting the sperm stem cells runs the risk of reintroducing cancer cells that could have been present in the original tissue. However, these results represent a significant step forward in the quest to restore fertility to those who have undergone chemotherapy. 1