Chemotherapy and radiation therapy save the lives of women suffering from ovarian and cervical cancers. However, at a great cost – losing their fertility and their ability to reproduce.
Preserving fertility in male cancer patients is much easier. Sperms can be collected in large amounts and cryopreserved (deep frozen) for future use. It is more complicated in women because there is usually only one mature egg produced a month. Fertility treatment can increase the egg numbers but may have some detrimental effects on an already failing health as well as delay cancer treatments.
Researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine may just have come up with a novel technique to save female cancer patients’ fertility better. The researchers removed follicles containing immature egg cells directly from the ovaries and cultured to maturity in the lab. Mature eggs are then ready to be fertilized. But why hasn’t this ever done before? Well, ovarian follicles are very fragile and delicate and culturing them to maturity outside the ovary is very difficult and tricky. But it seems that these researchers managed to do this for the first time and the resulting eggs are healthy.
According to Teresa Woodruff, chief of fertility preservation at the Feinberg School and a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University
“By being able to take an immature ovarian follicle and grow it to produce a good quality egg, we’re closer to that holy grail, which is to get an egg directly from ovarian tissue that can be fertilized for a cancer patient.”
There are other new techniques to preserve fertility during cancer treatment. One is by freezing part of or a whole ovary and reimplanting the tissue back after treatment. However, this comes with the limitation that the ovary cells themselves may contain cancer cells that will eventually spread in the body again.
The NU researchers have already managed to carry the technique to completion in mice. The egg follicles were mature in vitro, fertilized and re-implanted back into the mother to produce healthy offsprings. It is just a matter of time till they successfully perform the complete process in human females.
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