Treatments for cancer and sickle cell disease deplete germ cells in young boys
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IMAGE: The first image shows germ cells in an untreated baby diagnosed with juvenile myelomonocytic leukaemia, with the arrows pointing at germ cells that shown in green. The second image shows… view more 

Credit: Dr. Jan-Bernd Stukenborg, Karolinska Institutet and University Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden

Scientists have discovered that some treatments for cancer and sickle cell disease can destroy the germ cells that go on to develop into sperm in the testes of young boys. In some pre-pubescent boys, the treatment for sickle cell disease results in complete destruction of all their germ cells, which are called spermatogonia.

The study, which is published today (Wednesday) in Human Reproduction [1], one of the world’s leading reproductive medicine journals, is the first to describe the effects of these treatments on spermatogonial quantity, although boys who have undergone chemotherapy or radiotherapy are known to be at risk of reduced fertility in adulthood.

As a result of their findings, the researchers say that if doctors plan to remove and freeze testicular tissue for fertility preservation, this should be performed before boys undergo a type of chemotherapy that uses high doses of drugs called ‘alkylating agents’. This would give the boys some hope of restoring

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