Some children’s hospital are trying a futuristic approach to battle infertility sometimes cause by cancer treatment. The approach is to remove and freeze immature ovary and testes tissue, with hopes of being able to put it back when patients reach adulthood and want to start families.
After the tissue is removed, some is stored in liquid nitrogen for the patient’s future use and some is sent to a central research lab at Northwestern University in Chicago, where scientists are studying ways to make it work.
Unfortunately, no one can be sure at the moment if it will work.
The irony of cancer treatment is that is can save lives while destroying the chance to create a new life. Chemotherapy works by killing rapidly dividing cells. Unfortunately, radiation can also damage hair follicles, digestive tract cells and sperm and eggs.
In adults, this treatment had allowed more than 30 babies to be born to women who had ovarian tissue removed in adulthood frozen and put back after treatment for cancer or other serious conditions.
However, the procedures are still experimental in children who have not yet attained puberty. There are challenges to making immature eggs and sperm from removed tissue suitable for conception. Fertility researchers hope to refine the science while the first generation of children whose tissue has been put on ice grows up.
Doctors face the dilemma of broaching the idea of yet another medical procedure when families have been hit with a devastating diagnosis and difficult treatment plan. The tissue-removing surgeries are typically done while a child is being sedated for another reason.
Doctors must be thoughtful about the fact that the family’s main focus and the doctor’s is the survival of the child. However, this discussion often brings hope to the family because the doctor believes that the child will live long enough to grow into adulthood and have their own family.
Federal guidelines say there should be minimal risk to children involved in research. The risks need to be weighed against potential benefits.