Researchers have developed a novel method that may help preserve fertility in female cancer patients receiving treatments like radiation and chemotherapy.
“The good news is that more young women are surviving cancer. But many cancer treatments increase the risk of premature ovarian insufficiency (POI) and infertility,” said Ewelina Bolcun-Filas from The Jackson Laboratory in the US.
While assisted reproductive technologies can address infertility, she said, they fail to preserve ovaries’ natural function — which has an important role in women’s health that goes beyond reproduction.
Bolcun-Filas and co-researcher Terri L Woodward from the University of Texas described their novel method in an opinion article published in the journal Cell Press Trends in Cancer.
Many cancer treatments cause DNA damage, not only in cancer cells, but also in normal tissue such as in ovaries. The natural response to this damage is thought to be the elimination of damaged oocytes through apoptosis — or programmed cell death.
Their new method — developed through studies in mice — highlights that targeting proteins involved in apoptosis protects oocytes and prevents infertility in females exposed to radiation. The researchers reviewed findings demonstrating how cancer therapies induce apoptotic death in oocytes and how this knowledge could be applied to design better treatments.
“A better appreciation of oocyte response to radiation and anti-cancer drugs will uncover new targets for the development of specialised therapies to prevent ovarian failure,” the researchers said.