Drug May Reverse Cancer Treatment-Related Infertility

An infection drug was seen to regenerate sperm production in patients with cancer.

Findings from a new study suggest that a drug used to prevent infections in patients with cancer may also protect them from infertility. Unfortunately, fertility is a concern for patients with cancer, since many current treatments stop sperm production.

The team of researchers have long been searching for novel ways to restore fertility among men who lost the ability to have children due to cancer treatment during childhood.

Pediatric cancer can be frightening for both patients and parents. Although there have been great advances in cancer treatments for children recently, fertility is typically not at the forefront of the conversation when determining the optimal treatment. Infertility persists among patients who had cancer in their childhood and were treated with chemotherapy or radiation.

While looking for methods to restart sperm production, the investigators found a link between a drug used to ward off infections and a lack of reproductive harm, according to the study published by Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology.

The drug is granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-SCF), which encourages neutrophil production in the bone marrow. Neutrophils are a key player in fighting infections, and are typically killed after treatment with chemotherapy or radiation.

"We were using G-CSF to prevent infections in our research experiments," said lead investigator Brian Hermann, PhD. "It turned out that the drug also had the unexpected impact of guarding against male infertility."

Males often become infertile as a result of chemotherapy and radiation, which are known to kill sperm stem cells. Infertility due to cancer treatment can significantly impact quality of life in the future when having children may be desired.

The investigators discovered that G-CSF regenerated sperm production by promoting the growth of new sperm cells to replace the dead cells, according to the study.

This study was an unexpected, but successful turn of events, since the team typically focuses on regenerating dead testicular tissue through the use of stem cells. The team hopes to continue down this path of regenerating sperm cells as well.

A next step would be to determine whether the use of G-CSF can improve fertility among men with cancer through observational studies. Until that can be completed, the investigators plan to focus on understanding the stem cells that are responsible for male reproduction in order to discover additional treatments for male infertility, according to the study.

These findings may even translate to treatments for use among men who have not undergone cancer treatment, but are infertile for other reasons.

"Male infertility is an intuitive disease and we need creative solutions," Dr Hermann said. "But we need to understand how things work before we can fix them."