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Experimental Treatment Could Ensure Future Fertility For Prepubescent Cancer Patients

Keith Srakocic
AP Photo
The signs marking the offices for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, UPMC, are seen on top of the U.S. Steel tower on Monday, April 3, 2017, in Pittsburgh.

For pediatric cancer patients, their chances of having children in the future can be diminished by treatment. But an experimental treatment available at UPMC could preserve fertility for young boys going through radiation.

Spermatogonial stem-cell transplantation involves taking a sample of testicular tissue and turning pre-sperm cells into viable samples. When re-inserted into testes, even if they're damaged by radiation and chemotherapy, the sperm stem cells function as they would naturally and become sperm.

The service is offered to the parents of any prepubescent boy undergoing radiation, according to UPMC pediatric oncologist Erika Freihling. If a boy is old enough to give consent, they're asked a series of questions to ensure they understand and agree to the procedure.

If they are too young to give consent, the decision is shifted to the parents or guardian.

"Parents and patients seem to be very interested in hearing about it because it speaks to our hope that they're cured and leading a healthy, normal life in the future," she said.

So far, 110 boys have their samples stored at UPMC.

A similar treatment is available for prepubescent girls undergoing cancer treatment. This involves harvesting and freezing an ovary to be re-implanted in the future. This process is also in the experimental phase, and UPMC currently has 25 frozen ovaries saved.

The re-implanting process has been studied on animals for decades with success. In animal trials, the samples have been viable for up to 14 years. Head of UPMC Magee's Fertility Preservation program Kyle Orwig says he thinks it's time to study the re-implanting process in people.

"I think we have patients today that would be eligible for the technology," he said. "I don't think we need to wait 14 years, I think it's time to take that technology to the clinic now.