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June 21, 2013 10:22 am

Israelis Discover Method to Preserve Fertility in Women Undergoing Chemo

avatar by Zach Pontz

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Israeli team that found way to preserve fertility in women undergoing chemotherapy. Photo: Sheba Medical Center/Israel 21c

Israeli doctors believe they have discovered a way to avoid harming women’s ovaries while they undergo chemotherapy, Israel 21c reports.

Cancer treatments can often damage a young woman’s ovaries — so even if her life is saved, her ability to create new life is often ruined.

In a study published in Science Translational Medicine (published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science), the authors describe how they used a mouse model of a common chemotherapy drug to understand how it attacks the ovaries and the eggs inside them. The Israeli-synthesized compound, AS101, successfully prevented infertility during the experiments.

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According to Israel 21c, Prof. Dror Meirow, who headed the experiments conducted by doctoral student Lital Kalich-Philosoph and senior researcher Dr. Hadassa Roness “explained that doctors have long believed oocytes (egg cells) were destroyed as a direct result of the toxic chemotherapy. But the Israelis discovered that the treatment actually triggers an abnormal wave of growth in these dormant cells before killing them.”

“This new understanding of the mechanism behind the loss of these cells has allowed us to shift the focus and find a new drug that can prevent the growth of the oocytes,” Meirow said.

The result is that the woman’s natural reserve of egg cells is depleted – a condition called ovarian burnout. “This new understanding of the mechanism behind the loss of these cells has allowed us to shift the focus and find a new drug that can prevent the growth of the oocytes,” Meirow said.

Before the discovery the only way to preserve fertility in female cancer patients has been by extracting and freezing their eggs or ovarian tissue for transplantation after recovery. But the approach is invasive, expensive and carries no guarantee of success. Furthermore, not every woman can do it.

During the trials egg cells in mice treated with AS101 in conjunction with chemotherapy remained dormant and survived the entire treatment. These test mice were later found to have normal fertility, whereas the ones treated with the cancer drug alone had a lower rate of pregnancy.

As Kalich-Philosoph explains it, AS101 restores balance in the ovary, preserving the reserve of eggs by acting as an inhibiting factor on the burnout mechanism. “That’s why AS101 is a novelty to preserve fertility to cancer patients.”

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