A team of experts from University of Edinburgh have developed a service to preserve testicular tissues of young boys who might develop cancer later in life. Recently the researchers found that fertility revival is possible which diminishes after the chemotherapy in adult men with cancer. This pioneering service for freezing testicular tissues of boys as young as one year of age is funded jointly by the Wellcome Trust, Children with Cancer, the European Union, the Medical Research Council and the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Services.
The service has been running for six months but the announcement was made public recently when this breakthrough service helped a cancer survivor bear a child. Being a hope for young boys, this service also strives forward to help men who face infertility problems after getting their cancer treatment. This could be a good news for hundreds of thousands of young cancer patients.
After getting treated with chemotherapy or radiation, a cancer patient often experiences infertility. While the patients at first cannot look past their ailment once they are diagnosed with a life limiting disease like cancer, the picture of future turns bleak. Adding new hope to the lives of cancer survivors, this service has an ability to restore their fertility so they can enjoy the bliss of parenthood.
Does The Fertility Preservation Limit Only To Male Gender?
It was 20 years ago when Edinburgh first introduced freezing ovarian tissues service to restore fertility in women who underwent cancer treatment. However, it was recently when these persistent efforts began to yield results. It was earlier this month when Britain’s first 33-year-old cancer survival gave birth to a healthy baby boy. The woman, who did not want to reveal her identity, had a section of her ovary removed and frozen 11 years ago after she had been diagnosed with kidney cancer. During a 10-year long stretch of her cancer treatment, she has had a surgery and two rounds of chemotherapy. At the successful re-implantation of ovarian tissue, her reproductive system regained its functioning which helped her in restoring her fertility.
Despite this success, experts admit that to revive fertility in women is easier as compared to the men. Women are born with full complement of egg cells which can be collected and stored to be used years later, at time of need. For them freezing eggs or ovary tissues are two currently available options.
Getting eggs frozen for a girl can be done at an early age when she reaches puberty. In this process, eggs are collected in an ultrasound guided procedure. in the other procedure, ovary tissues are collected from the girl, frozen at the lab and re-transplanted at the time when she wants to have a child. This is a thin tube guided procedure which is known as laparoscope. The tube is inserted into the lower abdomen by making a small incision in the abdominal wall to remove some ovary tissues.
On the contrary, to take testicular tissues from prepubertal boys to revive their ability to reproduce later in life is a challenging task. Prepubertal boys do not have the ability to produce sperms and therefore storing testicular tissues at this stage can be futile. The process of sperm banking, also known as cryopreservation, is a non-invasive method of sperm collection and storage for post-pubertal boys. For prepubertal boys, another mechanism has been devised which is known as testicular tissue freezing. During this procedure, tissue biopsy from the testicles are collected, frozen and matured under lab conditions.
In this procedure, which is largely experimental at the moment, teams of reproductive biology experts are investigating into the possibility of turning immature testicular tissues into mature sperm cells.
This is the UK’s first young testicular tissue storage center for young male patients with cancer before their chemotherapy begins. Rod Mitchell, who is a Wellcome Trust intermediate clinical fellow at the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, University of Edinburgh, said, ‘This programme in males, combined with our well-established fertility preservation programme for females, has resulted in the establishment of a collaboration of scientists and clinicians working as part of the ‘Edinburgh Fertility Preservation’ programme’.
Rod Mitchell further said, “We don’t yet known if it is possible, but there are good animal studies showing that it is technically feasible.” He added that he is expecting to provide this service to one or two boys a year. These numbers are likely to increase as their research continues to proceed towards achieving the aim of providing fatherhood to the cancer patients.