MEDICAL: DISEASES: CANCER :
WOMEN: HEALTH :
New Technique Could Sustain Cancer Patients' Fertility
Date: Tue, 14 Jul 2009 10:12:34 -0400
From: "NIH OLIB (NIH/OD)" <[hidden email]>
To: [hidden email]
Subject: New Technique Could Sustain Cancer Patients' Fertility
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH NIH News
Eunice Kennedy Shriver
National Institute of Child Health andHuman Development (NICHD)
For Immediate Release: Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Marianne Glass Miller
NEW TECHNIQUE COULD SUSTAIN CANCER PATIENTS' FERTILITY
Researchers Grow Immature Egg Cells in the Laboratory for 30 Days
Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health have completed a
critical first step in the eventual development of a technique to retain
fertility in women with cancer who require treatments that might otherwise
make them unable to have children.
The researchers have developed a method to advance undeveloped human eggs
to near maturity, in laboratory cultures maintained outside the body. The
technique focuses on the follicle, a tiny sac within the ovary that
contains the immature egg. The researchers were able to grow human
follicles in the laboratory for 30 days, until the eggs they contained
were nearly mature.
The research seeks to provide women who require a fertility-ending
treatment with options for reproduction after their treatment is complete.
Men facing such treatments can freeze their sperm for use at a later date.
Female cancer patients have fewer options. Unlike sperm, eggs rarely
survive freezing and thawing.
The accomplishment represents the successful completion of the first of
three steps needed to preserve a woman's fertility after radiation
treatments or chemotherapy. For the next step, researchers will need to
induce the egg's final division, so that it contains only half the genetic
material of its precursors. Finally, the researchers will have to
demonstrate that they can freeze and thaw human follicles before growing
them in culture.
"The new technique could provide an option for women and girls who have
cancer and are not yet ready to start families," said Duane Alexander,
M.D., director of NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child
Health and Human Development (NICHD), which funded the research as part of
the NIH Roadmap Interdisciplinary Research Consortium program. "An
additional benefit is that it will allow researchers to more closely
follow the process by which immature eggs grow and mature. In turn, these
observations may lead to new advances for treating other forms of
The best option currently for a female cancer patient to preserve
fertility is to collect eggs, fertilize them with sperm, and freeze the
resulting embryos. But that technique may not be acceptable to all female
Researchers have already identified experimental methods to freeze entire
ovaries or strips of ovarian tissue and implant them in a woman's body
when she is ready to have children. This is a good option for some
patients, but it is possible that some cancer cells may hitch hike on the
ovarian tissue and result in a new cancer after treatment is completed.
Developed by Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D. and Lonnie D. Shea, Ph.D., of
Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, and their
colleagues, the new technique would avoid both concerns.
The findings were published online in Human Reproduction.
The new findings build on earlier efforts by the research team, who grew
mouse follicles in culture, induced the eggs they contained to mature,
fertilized them with mouse sperm, and implanted them into female mice to
establish pregnancy. The earlier research is described in an article that
appeared in The NIH Record, at
The researchers made the new advance by suspending the human follicle in a
three-dimensional matrix of a gel-like material. They then flushed the
follicle with the same hormones and growth factors that the follicle would
be exposed to inside a woman's body.
In previous attempts to grow follicles, researchers had set the follicles
on a flat surface, which the study authors now believe does not mimic
closely enough conditions inside the body. These earlier attempts failed
to develop good quality eggs that were healthy enough for fertilization.
For the current study, the researchers started with so-called secondary
follicles, which are at an intermediate stage of development. They
collected them from the ovarian tissue of 14 cancer patients.
During the 30-day experiment, the follicle grew and produced hormones and
the immature egg matured just as it would inside a woman's body. The
researchers found that the follicles would grow if injected into a gelatin
mixture. The gelatin (called alginate) provided three-dimensional support
for the follicle, much like the support it receives inside the body.
"The researchers have demonstrated that the technique produces healthy
eggs," said Charisee Lamar, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.R.T., director of the
Fertility Preservation Program in NICHD's Reproductive Sciences Branch.
"The next step would be to investigate the viability of follicles from
Another component of the NICHD program is attempting to grow follicles of
monkeys in culture. The ability to do research on mouse and monkey
follicles might lead to advances that could later be used to perfect the
technique's use with human eggs.
"In vitro grown human ovarian follicles from cancer patients support
The NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth;
maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population
issues; and medical rehabilitation. For more information, visit the
Institute's Web site at
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) -- The Nation's Medical Research
Agency -- includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal
agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational
medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures
for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its
This NIH News Release is available online at:
(215) 204 - 4584
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