A new study on the use of stem cells could give women rendered infertile by chemotherapy hope in starting a family.
A collaboration of researchers from Egypt and the U.S. found that injecting stem cells into ovaries damaged by chemotherapy could revive them. Described as a "phenomenal" find by fertility experts, these scientists proved that restoring fertility for women with cancer is possible.
The team, led by Dr. Sara Mohamed, injected stem cells into a group of mice who were given chemotherapy, and their results were then compared to another group of mice exposed to chemotherapy that were given a placebo.
Within a week, a boost in estrogen, a female hormone necessary in ovulation, was found in the mice with stem cell injections, followed by ovarian tissue regeneration. Eventually, the mice that had the injections went on to have huge litters of young despite previously having ovarian failure due to the chemo.
"We inject stem cells in the ovaries of mice which had chemotherapy," Mohamed said. "We got very good ovarian function restoration in form of follicle number, hormonal production and finally getting pregnant and having new pups which was our ultimate goal."
With the success of the experiment, the team hopes to move forward to human clinical trials if they could convince regulators of the safety and benefits of their tests. For now, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned trials to stimulate ovarian regeneration by stem cells.
Gynecologist Dr. Stuart Lavery of the Imperial College expressed excitement on what the findings of the study could mean for both stem cell research and for women undergoing chemotherapy.
"It (provides) some realistic hope that post-chemotherapy patients who have been made menopausal could one day restore ovarian function and possibly fertility," Stuart said.
Women who are to undergo chemotherapy are advised to have their egg cells freeze on early stage in-vitro fertilization before chemotherapy. However, some women may be denied the option of freezing their eggs or may not be able to afford an IVF.
However, with the chance of having stem cell therapy for restoring ovaries available, doctors are hopeful that women have the option to gain their fertility back after chemotherapy.
"(Infertility is) a very common problem based on statistics of cancer female diagnosis every year," said Mohamed, whose work was inspired after an encounter with a 22 year old patient who was at risk of becoming infertile due to her chemotherapy.
"It was a very emotional for me so I decided to pursue it and work on it to figure it out."