Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Stem cells give new hope to infertile male cancer survivors

Radiation and chemotherapy are many times the only viable options for saving a patient with cancer. Unfortunately, these treatments are accompanied by many adverse effects and among others, may also cause permanent infertility. As of now, the only option for these men is to cryopreserve their sperm for future use.

However cryopreservation is not an option for prepubertal boys, as they don't yet produce normal sperm cells. But all men, including prepubertal boys, produce spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) in their testes.

The idea of using SSCs to restore fertility has been around since the mid -1990s, after being first introduced by scholar Ralph L. Brinster. Recently, Brian Hermann developed and presented a new technique that gives hope to thousands of infertile cancer survivors. For now his experiments have only been performed on primates but many scientists believe it to be a good start.

"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."

Unfortunately, like with everything new presented in medicine, it first has to pass a lot of clinical trials before becoming a standard clinical practise.

"This research demonstrates the proof of principle -- that the concept works in primates and has a good chance of working in humans,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 maximise their ability to restart sperm production." said Herrman

Hermann also pointed out that, as of today, there are very few clinics that are capable of extracting and preserving spermatogonial stem cells, making it quite difficult to start a human clinical trial.

"There are currently only a handful of clinics around the world that will remove and preserve testicular stem cell samples from prepubertal patients, and that limits the availability of candidates," said Hermann. "Until more clinics get on board and save stem cells for patients, we are limited in what we can do to test transplantation in clinical trials."

picture showing hermann's method for creating sperm from spermatogonial stem cells
Graph showing how Hermann's method works

Professor Brian Hermann is an assistant at the University of Texas at San Antonio and has worked in collaboration with researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine's Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI) for his research on spermatogonial stem cells.

Hermann, B., Sukhwani, M., Winkler, F., Pascarella, J., Peters, K., Sheng, Y., Valli, H., Rodriguez, M., Ezzelarab, M., Dargo, G., Peterson, K., Masterson, K., Ramsey, C., Ward, T., Lienesch, M., Volk, A., Cooper, D., Thomson, A., Kiss, J., Penedo, M., Schatten, G., Mitalipov, S., & Orwig, K. (2012). Spermatogonial Stem Cell Transplantation into Rhesus Testes Regenerates Spermatogenesis Producing Functional Sperm Cell Stem Cell, 11 (5), 715-726 DOI: 10.1016/j.stem.2012.07.017

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