Saving fertility for cancer survivors?

Young women with cancer often suffer premature ovarian failure and thus infertility after chemotherapy or radiation therapy. There hasn’t been a way to protect women against such damage, says Fran�ois Paris of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

However, in the October 2000 Nature Medicine, he and his colleagues showed that a compound called sphingosine-1-phosphate, given before anticancer radiation, protects mouse ovaries. Now, the researchers report that the drug permits pregnancy after radiation exposure.

Before applying radiation, the researchers gave some female mice sphingosine-1-phosphate and others a placebo. After the treatments, 88 percent of mice receiving the drug became pregnant and gave birth, but only 38 percent of placebo-treated females did. The researchers haven’t yet seen any chromosomal abnormality in the offspring of the treated group, another indication that the drug protects ovaries from radiation damage.

“The signs are very promising,” says Paris, noting that preliminary studies in human-cell cultures mirror the findings in mice. He cautions, however, that more safety studies are needed before the compound can be tested in people.

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