Israeli Researchers Discover Compound to Protect Female Cancer Patients' Eggs

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Israeli researchers have discovered a chemical compound that could protect the eggs of women cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy. The researchers made the finding after learning what causes infertility among women with cancer and what destroys their eggs.

In work on laboratory rats, Israeli researchers from the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer and Bar-Ilan University found that eggs are normally protected by a mechanism called PI3K, which maintains them in a dormant state. Chemotherapy, they discovered, interferes with this mechanism, leading the eggs to divide until they die, or "burn out," as the researchers termed it. The Israeli scientists then managed to locate a synthetic compound, AS101, which had been developed 18 years ago at Bar-Ilan, and discovered that this compound makes it possible to mitigate the effects of chemotherapy on the eggs of lab rats.

Among the long-term side-effects of chemotherapy are irreversible harm to women's eggs in their ovaries and infertility. Prior efforts to figure out how chemotherapy resulted in the destruction of a woman's eggs had been unsuccessful. Egg cells do not divide and it was unclear how malignancies and cancer treatment affected them.

The discovery raises the possibility that it could be used to protect their fertility of female human cancer patients.

The substance had already proven effective in laboratory animals to prevent the secretion of a substance that compromises the immune system of cancer patients, to prevents hair loss in the patients and as an effective treatment for Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's.

In recent years, women who have been concerned about chemotherapy affecting their future fertility have taken measures such as having their eggs frozen prior to cancer treatment for future use or sections of their ovaries removed. Patients are advised that either the cancer or the chemotherapy may affect their fertility.

In 2005, Sheba was the first hospital in the world to report, in the New England Journal of Medicine, a baby born to a cancer patient who had had a portion of her ovaries removed and frozen for later use. But the procedure is not suited for all patients. It is also expensive and not always successful.

Among those involved in the recent experiments on preventing damage to eggs from chemotherapy were Dror Meirow of the In Vitro Fertilization and Fertility Preservation Unit at Sheba Medical Center and Binyamin Shardani of the life sciences department. Shardani developed the chemical compound the researchers used. The research was headed by a doctoral student, Lital Kalich Philosof, and the director of the fertility preservation laboratory at Tel Hashomer, Hadassa Roness.

The researchers were able to prove that after four weeks, the use of the chemical compound in conjunction with chemotherapy rendered more of the eggs viable at the end of the treatment than was the case with chemotherapy alone among the lab rats. The findings are being published in the professional journal Science Translational Medicine.

An image from the research, which may help women undergoing chemotherapy preserve their fertillity.Credit: Reuters

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