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Preventing Fertility Loss from Chemotherapy

Young women who have cancer treatment often lose their fertility because chemotherapy and radiation can damage or kill their immature ovarian eggs. Now, Northwestern Medicine® scientists have found the molecular pathway that can prevent the death of immature ovarian eggs due to chemotherapy, potentially preserving fertility and endocrine function.

Scientists achieved this in female mice by adding a currently approved chemotherapy drug, imatinib mesylate, to another chemotherapy drug, cisplatin. This blocked the action of a protein that triggers a cascade of events resulting in death of the immature eggs.

The results were presented June 17 at The Endocrine Society’s 95th Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

“This research advances the efforts to find a medical treatment to protect the fertility and hormone health of girls and young women during cancer treatment,” says So-Youn Kim, the lead investigator and a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Teresa Woodruff, PhD, chief of fertility preservation at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

Kim is currently testing imatinib to see if it also protects fertility in combination with other chemotherapy agents.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health, grant U54 HD076188.