This undated photo provided by the Oregon Health and Science University in March 2019 shows a baby monkey named Grady, at two weeks old, born from an experimental technology that aims to help young boys undergoing cancer treatment preserve their future fertility. Scientists froze testicular tissue from a monkey that had not yet reached puberty, and later thawed it to produce sperm used for Grady’s conception. (OHSU via AP)

This undated photo provided by the Oregon Health and Science University in March 2019 shows a baby monkey named Grady, at two weeks old, born from an experimental technology that aims to help young boys undergoing cancer treatment preserve their future fertility. Scientists froze testicular tissue from a monkey that had not yet reached puberty, and later thawed it to produce sperm used for Grady’s conception. (OHSU via AP)

Monkey birth a step to saving fertility of boys with cancer

The technique worked well enough that human testing should begin in the next few years

Scientists are closing in on a way to help young boys undergoing cancer treatment preserve their future fertility — and the proof is the first monkey born from the experimental technology.

More and more people are surviving childhood cancer, but nearly 1 in 3 will be left infertile from the chemotherapy or radiation that helped save their life.

When young adults are diagnosed with cancer, they can freeze sperm, eggs or embryos ahead of treatment. But children diagnosed before puberty can’t do that because they’re not yet producing mature eggs or sperm.

“Fertility issues for kids with cancer were ignored” for years, said University of Pittsburgh reproductive scientist Kyle Orwig. “Many of us dream of growing up and having our own families. We hope our research will help these young patients to do that.”

Orwig’s team reported a key advance Thursday: First, they froze a bit of testicular tissue from a monkey that hadn’t yet reached puberty. Later, they used it to produce sperm that, through a monkey version of IVF, led to the birth of a healthy female monkey named Grady.

The technique worked well enough that human testing should begin in the next few years, Orwig said.

“It’s a huge step forward” that should give hope to families, said Susan Taymans of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which helped fund the research published in the journal Science. “It’s not like science fiction. It’s something that seems pretty attainable.”

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a handful of other hospitals already freeze immature testicular tissue from young cancer patients, in hopes of knowing how to use it once they’re grown and ready to have their own children.

Boys are born with stem cells inside little tubes in the testes, cells that start producing sperm after puberty’s testosterone jolt. Orwig’s goal: Keep sperm-producing stem cells safe from cancer treatment by freezing small pieces of testicular tissue, and using them to restore fertility later in life.

How? Enter the monkey research.

Orwig’s team froze tissue from young male monkeys, and then sterilized them. Once the monkeys approached puberty, the researchers thawed those tissue samples and gave them back to the original animal — implanting them just under the skin.

“We’re not hooking it up to the normal plumbing,” Orwig cautioned.

READ MORE: New B.C. pilot to probe how blood tests might improve cancer treatment

Boosted by hormones, the little pieces of tissue grew. Months later, the researchers removed them. Sure enough, inside was sperm they could collect and freeze.

Colleagues at the Oregon National Primate Research Center injected some of that sperm into eggs from female monkeys and implanted the resulting embryos. Last April, Grady was born, and “she plays and behaves just like every other monkey that was grown the normal way,” Orwig said.

If the technique sounds a little bizarre, it’s similar to a female option.

Girls’ eggs are in an immature state before puberty. Researchers have removed and frozen strips of ovarian tissue harbouring egg follicles from young women before cancer treatment, in hopes that when transplanted back later the immature eggs would resume development. It’s considered experimental even for young adults but some births have been reported. Now some hospitals bank ovarian tissue from girls, too.

Surgery involving the boys’ testicular tissue is less invasive, noted Orwig, who also is researching ways to reinsert sperm-producing stem cells where they belong rather than the more roundabout technique.

The new research shows “immature testicular tissue may become an option” to preserve boys’ fertility, Nina Neuhaus and Stefan Schlatt of the Center of Reproductive Medicine and Andrology in Muenster, Germany, wrote in an accompanying editorial.

Meanwhile, “it’s important for parents to know about this,” said Christine Hanlon of Holiday, Florida, who took her son Dylan to Pittsburgh to have his tissue stored when he was newly diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma at age 9.

Today Dylan is a healthy teen, and no one knows if he’ll ever need the stored tissue, one of more than 200 samples Orwig’s study has preserved. But Hanlon was thrilled to learn the research is moving along, just in case.

“You lose part of your childhood in cancer treatment,” Hanlon said. “If there was a chance I could help him have normalcy in his future, with the potential of having a family if that’s what he decided to do, I wanted to be able to.”

Lauran Neergaard, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Rod Bitten of Union Bay won $500,000 in the Lotto Max draw on Jan. 15. Photo supplied
Union Bay electrician gets shocking surprise with $500K Extra win

Rod Bitten has been hard at work with home renovations, which is… Continue reading

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Oyster River Fire Rescue members were called out to a suspicious fire in Black Creek. Two vehicles parked at a private residence were destroyed by fire. Photo courtesy Oyster River Fire Rescue
Suspicious fire destroys two vehicles at Black Creek residence

Oyster River Fire Rescue personnel were dispatched to a fire at a… Continue reading

The Northeast Woods in Comox is a popular area for hikers and mountain bike riders. It's also a protected park and conservation area. Photo by Scott Stanfield
Comox Valley RCMP seeking witnesses to ‘indecent act’ in Northeast Woods

Comox Valley RCMP are looking for witnesses after a man was seen… Continue reading

Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells is pictured in December 2018 presenting Marla Ayre, and her children Hunter and Marissa, with keys to their new home at the Habitat For Humanity Vancouver Island North’s Lake Trail Road project. File photo
Courtenay council gives green light to next Habitat build

Courtenay council adopted a bylaw to allow Habitat for Humanity to construct… Continue reading

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A suspect has been arrested in connection with fires at Drinkwater Elementary (pictured) and École Mount Prevost. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Arson suspect arrested after fires at Cowichan Valley schools

Drinkwater Elementary and Mount Prevost schools hit within a week

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Nanaimo RCMP are seeking the public’s help after a man allegedly assaulted a clerk at James General Store on Victoria Road on Jan. 18. (Submitted photo)
Suspect screams at customer then assaults store clerk in Nanaimo

RCMP asking for information about Jan. 18 incident at James General Store

Chartwell Malaspina Care Residence in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)
Two Nanaimo care-home residents have died during COVID-19 outbreak

Death reported Monday was the second related to Chartwell Malaspina outbreak, says Island Health

Members of the BC RCMP Explosive Disposal Unit (EDU) is on route to Drummond Park opposite of Fulford Habour on Saltspring Island after the discovery of a suspicious cylindrical-shaped device. (Google/Screencap)
Bomb disposal unit en route to Salt Spring Island after suspicious device found in park

Police say a resident discovered the device Wednesday morning in Drummond Park opposite BC Ferries terminal

Seven streets in downtown Duncan, including Station Street, will soon have new native names added to their signage. (Submitted graphic)
New Duncan street signs will be in English and Hul’q’umi’num

Seven streets to get additional names in First Nations language

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

Most Read