It is already known that standard chemotherapies have a negative impact on women’s fertility; which is why some of those who have to undergo chemotherapy choose to have their eggs preserved prior to treatment. A positive development regarding this has come to light as a drug that is currently being used to slow down tumor growth was also found to be capable of protecting the ovaries from the damaging effects of chemotherapy.
In a study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers shared that the ovaries of mice given the drug prior to being exposed to chemotherapeutic compounds were protected from expected damage.
The research team led by scientists from NYU Langone Medical Center found that the drug everolimus protected ovaries from the effects of cyclophosphamide – a chemotherapeutic agent usually used in the treatment of breast cancer but was also known to cause the depletion of egg cells needed to achieve conception.
After their treatment, female mice that were treated with chemotherapy and everolimus were found to be able to produce twice as many offspring as mice that were only given chemotherapy.
The study authors say that studies with strong results with an already available drug (such as this) may have a speedier process of applying for permission to test in premenopausal human cancer patients.
Clinical Significance Abound
Kara Goldman, MD, the study’s author and NYU Langone reproductive endocrinologist said that their findings with the use of everolimus may represent a cancer treatment that does not affect fertility in the future. She added that this can be used to complement the freezing of embryos and eggs that are doubtless valued methods but have quite a few cons such as being too expensive, too time consuming, not protective of ovarian function, and is less effective with age.
Goldman entered into research fellowship after a four-year residency in obstetrics and gynecology because she wanted to identify drugs that can address the gap she sees in her practice as a fertility specialist. She added that patients need more options and should not have to face devastating life choices wherein they have to choose between preserving their ability to have children in the future and getting treated for cancer.
A Positive Beacon for Those with Ovarian Issues
Goldman’s current study revolves around the ovaries, the female reproductive organ with a limited supply of eggs that give rise to a baby. Although women begin puberty with around 300,000 primordial follicles that can develop into egg cells, fertility specialists realized that women who’ve undergone chemotherapy treatments have a markedly reduced ability to conceive because the treatment shrinks ovarian reserves.
The research team expressed their commitment in answering questions as to whether their findings will be applicable in general fertility. They do acknowledge that a medication that can protect and extend ovarian function would be valuable not just for cancer patients but also for women who have other health conditions that cause irreversible depletion of their ovarian reserve.