A medical breakthrough could be on the horizon when it comes to reversing chemotherapy-related fertility loss, thanks to researchers with Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Using mice in a preclinical study, researchers have been testing how stem cells could potentially reverse fertility loss for women who have undergone chemotherapy.
According to Brigham and Women’s, about 5 percent of women experience premature ovarian failure due to cancer treatment or genetic issues.
“The ovary basically has two functions – one is to produce reproductive hormones and the second is for fertility,” said Dr. Raymond Manohar Anchan of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “When they get this medicine for their cancer treatment, depending on how much they get and how long they’re treated, a group of them will have a transient failure and some will have complete, permanent failure of their ovaries.”
Once a person’s ovaries fails, the ability to create eggs and conceive children is lost, while hormone levels fall as well.
With there currently being no therapies for affected patients to get their fertility back, Brigham and Women’s researchers have been exploring how adult stem cells could be a solution when it comes to reversing chemo-related infertility.
In their preclinical study, investigators injected stem cells into mice and found the rodents’ hormone levels were restored and that the mice were then able to give birth.
“The next step is to further evaluate the mice that were born,” Anchan explained to 7NEWS. “So, we’ve got three generations of mice, three litters of mice that were born from this process and they were fertile. What we haven’t done is a complete genetic analysis, so we don’t know if these mice have any other problems.”
Anchan added that it is also not clear if the stem cell treatment would only work for someone who has had chemotherapy or if it could possibly work for someone who has had premature ovarian failures.
“I think the exciting thing, is that a proof of concept, that you can take a non-reproductive cell, reprogram it into a stem cell, and then make it into reproductive tissue that gives you live births,” he stated. “These pups are fertile themselves, and so for human studies, I think it’s way down the road.”
Researchers say stem cells have potential, and are hopeful it will help treat other diseases, as well.
“There’s many, many diseases we can look at like this – another one that people look at quite a bit is looking at Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS – they developed stem cells from that disease,” Anchan said. “People are looking at Parkinson’s disease, so I think the opportunities are plenty.”
Longer-term studies involving mice are underway and required before any kind of testing involving humans can be considered.
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