SEP 22, 2017 09:41 AM PDT

Drug Could Prevent Male Infertility Following Cancer Treatment

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Image credit: Pixabay.com

It’s an unfortunate and tragic side-effect that doctors and cancer patients know too well: the treatments that can kick cancer’s butt may also damage the sperm or eggs, leading to irreversible infertility. Now, in studying ways to restore fertility to cancer survivors, researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio say there is promising evidence in an existing drug used to halt infections in cancer patients.

One of the biggest challenges in cancer medicine is ridding the cancer without harming healthy cells in the patients. Unfortunately, most of our current available treatments are not so sophisticated. Chemotherapies and radiation treatments designed to destroy dividing cancer cells often end up killing healthy cells too. This is why patients undergoing cancer therapies experience side effects like hair loss, weakness, and increased susceptibility to infections.

In some cases, the cancer treatment can also permanently damage the reproductive organs, rendering the patient infertile. For men and women in their reproductive prime and are anticipating cancer therapies, doctors may recommend options to freeze the sperm or eggs as a way for the patient to still bear children. However, for people who were treated for cancer as children, this is not an option.

Wishing to help reverse or prevent this consequence in cancer patients, researchers in the Brian Hermann lab focus on ways to restart sperm production in male cancer patients. In their investigation, they inadvertently stumbled upon a drug that seemed to protect men’s fertility from the damaging effects of cancer treatments.

The drug is known as granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF), and it stimulates the bone marrow to make more neutrophils. These are white blood cells that fight infections. Hence, the drug is typically given to cancer patients to help them thwart off pathogens.

But Hermann’s team noticed that cancer patients who were exposed to this drug seem to have less damage to their sperm. Could this drug also affect sperm production?

Indeed, lab experiments showed that G-CSF seemed to promote the growth of new sperm cells. This may negate the sperm that were damaged during the chemotherapy treatments, thereby saving fertility in these people.

"We were using G-CSF to prevent infections in our research experiments," said Hermann. "It turned out that the drug also had the unexpected impact of guarding against male infertility."

While the effects have only been observed in the lab so far, Hermann hopes to continue this study in cancer patients. If the results are confirmed, we may have a way to save at least half of the sexes from infertility related to cancer treatments. "Male infertility is an intuitive disease and we need creative solutions," he said. "But we need to understand how things work before we can fix them."

Additional source: University of Texas at San Antonio via Science Daily

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
DEC 06, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
DEC 06, 2019
Unprecedented Therapeutic Found Effective for Blood Cancer
According to the findings of a clinical trial, scientists at Mt. Sinai have found a new therapeutic effective for patients with a particular type of b...
DEC 06, 2019
Cancer
DEC 06, 2019
One third of women don't take advantage of free cancer screenings
Have you ever received a cancer screening? If you haven’t, you’re not alone. New research from King's College London and Queen Mary Univers...
DEC 06, 2019
Cancer
DEC 06, 2019
New hope for mesothelioma treatment
Mesothelioma is a very rare kind of malignant tumor that is caused by inhaled asbestos fibers and forms in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. While...
DEC 06, 2019
Cancer
DEC 06, 2019
Unpacking lactate's role in the Warburg effect
In a recent issue of Nature, the findings of one study made a particularly big splash: how and why cancer cells use energy differently than healthy cells. ...
DEC 06, 2019
Immunology
DEC 06, 2019
Immunity to HPV Can Prevent Skin Cancer
Scientists discovered a surprise benefit of low-risk human papillomaviruses (HPV), a typical resident of human skin. New research shows that these harmless...
DEC 06, 2019
Cancer
DEC 06, 2019
Can lithium heal damage from radiation?
Research suggests that lithium could play a role in minimizing the negative effects of radiation on the brain. The research was published in Molecular Psyc...
Loading Comments...