Discovery of a new approach to fertility preservation in women undergoing treatment for cancer

Survival rates for many common cancers now exceed 80%, and there are an estimated 14 million female cancer survivors world-wide. Unfortunately, one of the major side effects of cancer treatment in women is infertility and premature menopause. This is because cancer treatments cause DNA damage in cells other than just the cancerous cells. Oocytes (eggs) are extremely sensitive to DNA damage and kill themselves via a process known as apoptosis, presumably to prevent genetic mutations to be passed onto the next generation.

Researchers in Dr Karla Hutt’s Ovarian Biology lab at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute have found that when the oocytes are prevented from killing themselves they are able to accurately repair the damaged DNA. These animals can be treated with radiation yet produce healthy offspring without any genetic mutations or health issues. This study provides a fundamental step towards developing a truly effective fertility preservation strategy for female cancer patients and has important implications for prolonging women’s fertile lifespan.

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