A team of Japanese scientists have successfully conducted an experiment that may allow young boys with cancer to one day have children even if they have become sterile after treatment for the cancer. The team froze testicular tissue taken from mice and were later able to thaw the samples and boost them into producing sperm.
Modern medical techniques have resulted in 70% to 90% of children with cancer to survive into adulthood. The one problem they may face is that the treatments they undergo often cause males to become sterile. Mature men are able to donate sperm which can be frozen prior to treatment and used later during the fertilization process. However, boys who have not yet reached the age of puberty do not have this option. The study which was undertaken by Yokohama City University’s Graduate School of Medicine, and led by Takehiko Ogawa, could pave the way for the boys to have their own children later in their lives.
The testicular tissue taken from the mice was cryopreserved, either by vitrification or slow freezing. Once thawed, it was cultured and sperm was formed. Thereafter, microinsemination was performed and resulted in a total of eight offspring.
The offspring showed no signs of abnormality and reproduced normally. The team believes that this method can be successful in humans, thereby providing a solution to a problem caused by cancer treatment.
There are however problems with using this process in humans. Human testicular tissue is unable to survive in the same lab conditions as was used for the mice, so this process requires amendment. The gel culture used to incite the production of sperm in the mouse tissue does not react the same way in humans. Ogawa has stated that he is not close to being able to produce human sperm. He stated that the culture conditions have to be optimized for each species.
The research appears to be promising and Richard Yu, a paediatric urologist, has suggested that the parents of boys who are set to receive cancer treatment should make a determined effort to preserve a sample of their testicular tissue.
Dr Yu said that research which has been completed in the past few years is encouraging and the technique may be available for humans in the near future.
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