FRIDAY, Nov. 2, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- It might be possible one day to restore male fertility after cancer chemotherapy, new research with monkeys suggests.
Some cancer drugs are designed to destroy rapidly dividing cells, but can't tell the difference between cancer cells and other rapidly dividing cells in the body, including sperm-producing stem cells. As a result, these cells can be wiped out and leave the patient infertile.
"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," study senior investigator Kyle Orwig, associate professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said in a university news release.
Orwig and his colleagues froze sperm-producing stem cells from young and adult male monkeys and then gave the monkeys chemotherapy drugs known to harm fertility. A few months later, each monkey's own sperm-producing stem cells were implanted into his testes.
The implanted stem cells restored production of sperm that successfully fertilized eggs to produce embryos.
The study was published Nov. 1 in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
"Many questions remain to be answered," Orwig said. "Should we re-introduce the [sperm-producing] cells as soon as treatment is over, or wait until the patient is considered cured of his disease or when he is ready to start a family? How do we eliminate the risk of cancer recurrence if we give back untreated cells that might include cancer cells? These are issues we still must work through, but this study does show us the concept is feasible."
Orwig noted that several centers in the United States and other countries are already freezing testicular tissue from young cancer patients in anticipation that new stem-cell-based treatments will someday be available to help them have their own biological children.
Scientists note that research with animals often fails to provide similar results in humans.
The Nemours Foundation has more about the effects of childhood cancer treatment on fertility.