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  • The birth of Grady the monkey from frozen testicular tissue offers fertility hope to pediatric cancer survivors.

    The birth of Grady the monkey from frozen testicular tissue offers fertility hope to pediatric cancer survivors. | Photo: Oregon Health and Science University Handout

Published 22 March 2019

The issue of cancer-treatment induced infertility is especially significant for young boys, who do not have the same options as adult men or women of all ages.

In a breakthrough discovery, the birth of a baby monkey has given young boys going through cancer treatment the hope of one day being able to father children.

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The issue of cancer-treatment induced infertility is especially significant for young boys. Adult men are given the option to freeze sperm samples, while women and girls of all ages are able to freeze eggs and ovaries in order to reproduce once they have completed treatment.

One-third of pre-pubescent boys who undergo cancer treatment become infertile in adulthood due to the damage caused, by chemotherapy and radiotherapy, to their underdeveloped testes. Many young boys have already frozen fragments of testicular tissue, hoping that a discovery such as this one would enable them to reproduce in the future.

Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) have successfully matured frozen samples of pre-pubescent rhesus macaques monkeys in order to give birth to Grady, a healthy female.

Monkeys had a testicle removed and cryopreserved, starting with five male macaques who had not yet gone through puberty or started producing sperm. The males were then made infertile about a year and a half after the removal. The testicle fragments were then thawed, grafted underneath the skin, and eventually matured as the monkeys went through puberty.

The scientists found that 8 of the 10 tissue were producing sperm post-puberty. About 138 eggs were fertilized through an intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and 40% of the eggs developed into young embryos, 11 of which were implanted into female macaques.

The experiment resulted in one pregnancy and a healthy Grady.

While Grady's birth has Professor Orwig, instructor and researcher at the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine, feeling "that this technology... is ready for the human clinic," other researchers say more evidence is required before testing the technique on humans.

Dr. Susan Taymans of the NICHD hopes to see "a couple more" births before moving forward and tackling risks such as hidden cancerous material inside the testes potentially reintroducing cancer to the patient and the possibility of altering of genetic material inside the sperm.

Taymans expresses hope that the research will be thorough and "hopeful (that) boys whose tissue has been frozen will be able to use it in their lifetime."

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