Transplanting spermatogonial stem cells could restore fertility in male cancer patients

Published on December 11, 2012 at 3:39 AM · No Comments

Radiation and chemotherapy can pack a powerful punch against all kinds of cancers. Those who survive, however, are often left with bad news: Their treatments have rendered them infertile.

A UTSA professor has now demonstrated that it is possible to remove testicular stem cells from a monkey prior to chemotherapy, freeze them and later, after cancer treatments, transplant these cells where they can restart sperm production and restore fertility.

UTSA Assistant Professor Brian Hermann worked in collaboration with researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine's Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI) on a technique that might be used to make male cancer patients fertile using their own spermatogonial stem cells.

"This is a really exciting milestone for this research," said John McCarrey, director of the San Antonio Cellular Therapeutics Institute. "This is the first time that anybody has been able to show the concept works in a primate model, and that is an important step in moving the research forward to clinical trials."

While men facing cancer treatments, which could cause infertility, are able to store their own sperm for future use in the fertility clinic, this is not an option for boys before puberty who are not yet making sperm. But, all prepubertal boys have spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) in their testes, which could be used for transplantation.

The concept of using spermatogonial stem cells to restore fertility was first introduced in the mid-1990s by University of Pennsylvania scholar Ralph L. Brinster. Since that time, scholars have been working to demonstrate the concept is viable.

But more work is required.

The research must overcome a number of hurdles before it can become a common clinical practice.

"This research demonstrates the proof of principle - that the concept works in primates and has a good chance of working in humans," said Hermann. "We need to better understand the optimal timing of transplantation, how to prepare testicular stem cells for transplantation and make them safe for transplantation, and how to maximize their ability to restart sperm production."

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