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Researchers describe drug that could prevent infertility in cancer patients

Researchers, led by Brian Hermann (University of Texas at San Antonio; TX, USA), have demonstrated that a drug previously utilized to prevent infections in cancer patients after chemotherapy could also prevent infertility.

Infertility is a frequent problem in male cancer patients, as treatments such as chemotherapy are thought to cause infertility by killing spermatogonial stem cells, which are responsible for producing spermatozoa.

The study, published recently in Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, presented promising evidence that granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) could prevent infertility following chemotherapy or radiation treatment. The research group had been investigating a number of initiatives to restore fertility in men when they noticed a link between the drug, G-CSF and the absence of damage to reproductive ability.

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

In this study the team treated mice with either G-CSF or a control before and/or after sterilizing chemotherapy. The mice were then evaluated at different time points for effects on spermatogenesis, which varied between immediate assessment and 10–19 weeks.

The researchers discovered a protective effect of G-CSF, which appeared to last for at least 19 weeks post-chemotherapy. In addition, the protective effect was observed whether mice were treated with G-CSF before or after chemotherapy.

G-CSF is known to stimulate the bone marrow to produce neutrophils, which are commonly lost cancer therapies, thereby preventing infection. The team suggested that in the mouse models G-CSF might also promote proliferation of spermatogonial stem cells, leading to enhanced spermatogenic regeneration.

These results demonstrate the G-CSF appears to protect spermatogenesis after chemotherapy; the drug could therefore present a future treatment to restore fertility. However, further work is needed; the next step will be to observe whether use of G-CSF, already prescribed to cancer patients, has any correlation with improved fertility.

Hermann concluded: “Male infertility is an intuitive disease and we need creative solutions. But we need to understand how things work before we can fix them.”

Source: Kotzur T, Benavides-Garcia R, Mecklenburg J, Sanchez JR, Reilly M and Hermann BP, Granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) promotes spermatogenic regeneration from surviving spermatogonia after high-dose alkylating chemotherapy, Reprod. Biol. Endocrinol. 15 (7); www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-02/uota-usd021017.php