New Moms

Protecting Women's Fertility from Cancer Treatments

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Scientists are very close to finding a treatment which will preserve the fertility of women undergoing cancer treatments.

“When we were working on this project in the mid-1990s, the only strategy available to preserve the fertility of cancer patients was collecting and freezing eggs or ovarian tissue for assisted reproduction,” explains Jonathan Tilly, PHD, director of the Vincent Center for Reproductive Biology in the MGH Department of obstetrics and Gynecology, and senior author of the article published in Fertility and Sterility. “Since then we have brought the concept of protecting the ovaries from damage caused by anticancer treatments all the way from an idea on paper, through a decade of mouse studies, to a proof of concept in living primates.”

In 1997, Tilly and his group discovered that chemotherapy drugs led to the death of ovarian cells by a process called apoptosis.

This process naturally rids the body of unwanted or damaged cells. Radiation was triggering apoptosis on healthy ovarian cells. Tilly discovered the pathway that was sending the bad message. In a study in 2000 they found that a compound called sphingosine-1-phosphate or S1P blocked the pathway and the ovarian cells were left alone.

Further studies refined the application of the S1P and eventually tests were done on mice, exposing them to near lethal quantities of radiotherapy. Those mice went on to mate successfully. They further refined the study by using an S1P-like compound which is more stable called FTY720. And now primates have also mated successfully.

More tests will be done and the offspring of the primates will continue to be observed, but it’s very exciting to think there is a treatment on the horizon which leaves ovaries functional after cancer treatment.

Source: Fertility and Sterility, ScienceDaily