Women of child-bearing age who are undergoing cancer treatment are often vulnerable to infertility. Researchers recently discovered that a certain type of targeted cancer drug may block this unfortunate side effect of chemotherapy.
How Cancer Treatment Affects Fertility
Chemotherapy drugs work by targeting rapidly developing cells and damaging cellular DNA. Oocytes, or immature egg cells, are hypersensitive to DNA damage in order to “retain genomic fidelity.”
In addition, chemotherapy triggers a signaling pathway in the ovaries, resulting in premature maturation of primordial follicles. This process is often referred to as follicular burnout.
Currently there are two primary options for women to preserve their fertility while receiving chemotherapy:
• Goserelin (trade name Zoladex®) and leuprolide (trade name Lupron®) are drugs that temporarily shut down the ovaries.
• Cryopreservation involves harvesting eggs and freezing them for future use or fertilizing them outside the body and freezing the embryos.
Can Targeted Cancer Drugs Help to Preserve Fertility?
mTOR inhibitors have been approved for clinical use as they undergo continued testing for application as targeted cancer drugs. Since mTOR is a vital element in an ovary’s signaling pathway, researchers suspect that blocking the enzyme could protect the reserve of primordial follicles.
During the study, female mice who received chemotherapy only experienced follicular burnout, while those who received mTOR inhibitors as supplements maintained the reserves of primordial follicles. The latter also became pregnant at normal rates, while the former were primarily infertile.
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